Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Book Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Third Potter is darker, more complex, and fantastic.

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 22 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 131 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

J. K. Rowling borrows from many established stories and myths to piece together her magical world. Kids can look up more about bogarts, flying brooms, magic wands, etc., compare the author's take with other interpretations, and think about how and why she weaves these magical elements and beings into her stories. See the "Families Can Talk about" section for more discussion ideas.

Positive Messages

Friendship, love, bravery, and loyalty are always major themes in the series. This book also tackles more mature themes like conquering fear and a need for revenge.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Harry makes a very difficult and mature choice, showing some mercy to someone partially responsible for his parents' deaths, and realizing that his parents wouldn't want his friends to become murderers. He doesn't behave admirably all the time, however -- he and Ron are cruel to Hermione when she tries to protect Harry, and there's even more rule-breaking than in previous books -- Harry sneaks out to the wizarding village without permission. Besides Dumbledore, Professor Lupin becomes another good mentor for Harry, helping him conquer his fears and save the day.


Harry believes he is marked for death and stalked by a murderer most of the school year. Children are in peril, often at the hands of magical creatures: Dementors (black-robed floating beings that suck the happiness out of people) attack Harry and others, making Harry hear the sound of his mother dying as he passes out; they almost administer "the kiss of death," extracting someone's soul through his mouth. A hippogriff (eagle-horse mix) is provoked and strikes a student; the same creature is executed by a hatchet. A Boggart in a class demonstration changes shape to match what students are most afraid of (and kids learn to fight their fears with laughter). A large dog breaks Ron's leg. Adult characters threaten to kill another. A werewolf chases Harry and Hermione. Hermione punches a boy.


One "damn" and "b-" spelled that way.


Chocolate Frogs and other sweets mentioned were at first only fantasy products, but are now for sale.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Harry's Aunt Marge and Hagrid both get drunk. Butterbeer is introduced (a magical-world drink with a pinch of alcohol) and the kids go to a pub in Hogsmeade.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that J.K. Rowling continues her great plotting and pacing, but this book's edgier themes will appeal more to older kids. For most of the school year, Harry believes he is marked for death and stalked by an escaped prisoner. He also battles a creature of kids' worst nightmares: the Dementors are black-robed floating beings that suck out happiness and feed on your worst fears, which is why Harry hears the sound of his mother's last scream when he sees them. While this can be tough for young and sensitive readers, the bright spot is the Boggart lesson in Defense Against the Dark Arts. Boggarts can turn into what a person fears most, but the kids learn to yell "Ridiculous!" and turn it into something to laugh at. Parents who want to learn more about the series (and spin-off movies and games) can read our Harry Potter by Age and Stage article.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byhuginbun23 October 2, 2020

Not scary at all.

This book is not scary and it’s awesome if your kid reads all of it they won’t be scared.
Parent Written byhannah1991 October 21, 2019

Loved all the paranormal elements!

When the Knight Bus crashes through the darkness and stops in front of him, it's the beginning of another extraordinary year at Hogwarts for Harry Potter.... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bynoveleater November 11, 2010

Scary, but better than the first too, don't be surprised if you find yourself reading over your child's shoulder.

Amazing! Truly, Rowling is one of the best writers of our time. For the first time, the book gets scary, and Harry has to fight the fact of his parent's de... Continue reading
Kid, 7 years old May 7, 2011



What's the story?

This third entry in the series is scarier and more intense than the last two -- and even more exciting: When he can't stand his relatives' tormenting any more, Harry runs off, only to be picked up by a magical bus and taken to the Leaky Cauldron Inn. There he learns that Sirius Black, who supposedly betrayed his parents, has escaped from the wizard prison Azkaban, and is coming to kill him. The soul-sucking Dementors, guards from the prison, are dispatched to protect him back at school, but Harry finds that whenever one comes near he can hear his mother dying. But Black seems to get into the school anyway, Hermione and the new Dark Arts teacher each have secrets, and Ron's rat Scabbers and Hermione's new cat act strangely. When Harry obtains a map showing all the secret passages in the school, he makes discoveries about his parents, Snape, Black, and the new teacher. But what he learns may pit him against the Ministry of Magic.

Is it any good?

J.K. Rowling has sidestepped the usual series-writer trap of sticking so closely to a successful formula that each book is just more of the same. With Harry about to enter adolescence, the series, too, seems to be changing; this entry is darker, more complex, and morally more ambiguous than the first two. As he is forced by the Dementors to confront his parents' deaths directly, Harry -- who was always so cool in the earlier books -- is more emotionally unstable. Unlike the static characters in other series, Harry is getting older, with all that entails.

Rowling is a master of careful plotting, and the author is rumored to have planned out the whole story of the series in advance, for a total of seven books. In this volume, her planning shows, and the complexity is so great that, at times, it even inspires rereading. Rowling knows her readers, but even as she stretches their intellect, she never loses them.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the more mature content in this book, which marks a turning point in the series. Did the book scare you more than the others in the series so far? Did it make you think more? Why do you think the author made this one for slightly older kids?

  • Even though the Harry Potter books are considered fantasy, this book contains a big mystery and lots of twists and surprises. What do you like best about it -- the fantasy part? The mystery? The surprise ending?

Book details

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