Top 100 Children's Novels #12: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
#12 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (1999)
After all these years, this one is still my favorite: it’s the last true Middle Grade novel of the bunch, and it’s got everything: adventure, scary sequences, a daring escape, and time travel. And I can’t beat that my kids still adore Harry and his world. – Melissa Fox
Love this series, like everyone else. I chose #3 because when I read it, I knew enough about Harry’s world to get right into and feel at home, which is part of what I think the overall appeal is…that you could almost see yourself going to Hogwarts. I also love the Ron and Hermione interaction in this book, and Hermione’s developments (time turner classes, taking on Malfoy) in particular. – Libby Gorman
The best balance of funny and charming to dark and exciting. – Emily Myhr
Now this IS an interesting development. Remember that I asked folks to only list the first book in a series unless they felt that a sequel deserved to stand on its own. Not only has #3 in the Harry Potter series cracked the Top 20 but it came THIS CLOSE to cracking the top ten too! Previously appearing at #18, Rowling’s most beloved sequel has its following. Oh yes indeed it does. And to be perfectly honest, it’s my favorite Harry too. It was the first HP I ordered from Britain because, at that time, you could get the English edition faster than the American. I also preferred the English covers (though that love affair was soon to grow sour).
The plot description from Amazon reads, “For most children, summer vacation is something to look forward to. But not for our 13-year-old hero, who’s forced to spend his summers with an aunt, uncle, and cousin who detest him. The third book in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series catapults into action when the young wizard ‘accidentally’ causes the Dursleys’ dreadful visitor Aunt Marge to inflate like a monstrous balloon and drift up to the ceiling. Fearing punishment from Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon (and from officials at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry who strictly forbid students to cast spells in the nonmagic world of Muggles), Harry lunges out into the darkness with his heavy trunk and his owl Hedwig. As it turns out, Harry isn’t punished at all for his errant wizardry. Instead he is mysteriously rescued from his Muggle neighborhood and whisked off in a triple-decker, violently purple bus to spend the remaining weeks of summer in a friendly inn called the Leaky Cauldron. What Harry has to face as he begins his third year at Hogwarts explains why the officials let him off easily. It seems that Sirius Black–an escaped convict from the prison of Azkaban–is on the loose. Not only that, but he’s after Harry Potter. But why? And why do the Dementors, the guards hired to protect him, chill Harry’s very heart when others are unaffected?”
While reviewing this book for the New York Times, author Gregory Maguire considered the ramifications of Harry’s world in the article Lord of the Golden Snitch. Said he, “C. S. Lewis made a literary distinction between fantasy as magical happenings and fantasy as wish fulfillment. ‘Lay the fairy tale side by side with the school story. … We long to go through the looking glass, to reach fairyland. We also long to be the immensely popular and successful schoolboy or schoolgirl.’ Lewis concludes that stories that satisfy the desire for magic are healthy for the imagination and the spirit, while stories that pander to the desire to be Head Boy or sports star are dangerous “flattery to the ego” and leave readers ‘undivinely discontented.’ Maybe Lewis was right, but Rowling is having it both ways, and since Harry’s triumphs occur in an adjacent world, readers can sidestep most of the undivine discontent.”
It is often cited as the best in the series, in spite of the fact that it was the third Harry Potter book. More interestingly, this is the only book in the HP series where the Big Bad, Mr. Voldemort, does not make even a token appearance.
Publishers Weekly said of it, “Rowling’s wit never flags, whether constructing the workings of the wizard world (Just how would a magician be made to stay behind bars?) or tossing off quick jokes (a grandmother wears a hat decorated with a stuffed vulture; the divination classroom looks like a tawdry tea shop). The Potter spell is holding strong.”
Said School Library Journal, “The pace is nonstop, with thrilling games of Quidditch, terrifying Omens of Death, some skillful time travel, and lots of slimy Slytherins sneaking about causing trouble. This is a fabulously entertaining read that will have Harry Potter fans cheering for more.”
And Kirkus was nicely cheery when it said, “The main characters and the continuing story both come along so smartly (and Harry at last shows a glimmer of interest in the opposite sex, a sure sign that the tides of adolescence are lapping at his toes) that the book seems shorter than its page count: have readers clear their calendars if they are fans, or get out of the way if they are not.”
Artists worldwide agree. If you’re going to do a Harry Potter 3 cover, you better throw in a Hippogriff, or at the very least a big black dog.
I remember being very excited when this trailer came out. The film cut out a lot of the book, which was disappointing. There was also a funny inconsistency to the CGI. The hippogriff was quite remarkable. Beautifully done in every way. The werewolf, in contrast, looked like an escapee from a cheapo animation studio. Ah well.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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