Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Illustrated Edition
Author: J.K. Rowling
Illustrator: Jim Kay
Original Story Published in 1999
This Edition Published in 2017
"I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the third book in the Harry Potter series, covering Harry, Ron, and Hermione's third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It is also often recognized as the point in which the series comes of age and starts dealing with more adult problems and adventures.
After a fight with his aunt and uncle, whom he hates, Harry runs away from Privet Drive. A quick misadventure on the Knight Bus and into Diagon Alley ensues, he makes his way back to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for his third year. But during this time, a psychopath named Sirius Black, who once killed thirteen people with a single spell, breaks out of the Azkaban prison and goes on the run. People are concerned for Harry; Black is a known supporter of Voldemort, the dark lord who disappeared after trying to kill Harry, and are worried he will try to hurt Harry.
Throughout the book, the spectre of Black and the presence of evil creatures at Hogwarts make Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione edgy. It doesn't help that Hermione's new cat Crookshanks keeps trying to eat Ron's rat, or that Professor Trelawney keeps predicting Harry's death, or that Professor Snape is acting so nastily toward them again. The trio's third year will present their most difficult challenge yet; how do you defeat a man who is bound and determined to kill you?
I'll get this out of the way; until this book, all three kids loved Harry Potter. Now, they still love it, but they are far more wary of it. Prisoner of Azkaban is more mature and scarier, and while 8-years-old B and A are fine with it (to a point, see below), 5-year-old K is becoming more and more scared by certain events in these stories. I am slightly concerned about what will happen when we read the fourth book, but she's a tough little one, so I'm sure she'll be fine.
Beyond that, the standard warnings for the Harry Potter series apply: the chapters are long, taking 20-30 minutes each to read aloud, but are expertly written and thoroughly engaging. Even little K, though scared, still wanted to know what would happen after each chapter ended. Further, some of the British jargon will probably need to be explained, which in my house resulted in my 8-year-olds calling each other "gits" and me not being sure exactly how to handle that.
I want to call out specifically how much fun it is to do the voice for the Quidditch announcer Lee Jordan, precisely because he is constantly getting in trouble with Professor McGonagall. Imagine an old-timey radio announcer talking as fast as possible about broomsticks and Quaffles while being scolded by a cross between Judi Dench and a peregrine falcon, and you'll get the gist. The boys (B and A) consistently find these scenes to be the funniest parts of the book.
This book marks the turning point at which the Harry Potter series becomes darker, more grown up. Whereas Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets dealt with relatively-low-stakes issues, the problems in Prisoner of Azkaban are much more mature and, to be frank, alarming.
Throughout the book, Black, a convicted mass murderer, is attempting to break into Hogwarts. Everyone is certain that this is because he's trying to murder Harry, an idea which gains traction when Black actually succeeds in breaking into Harry and Ron's dormitory at the school, something which was supposed to be impossible. Ron wakes up in the middle of this near-attack screaming hysterically about a man holding a knife above his bed.
The measures employed to stop Black are just as bad as the threat he represents. Creatures known as Dementors are stationed around Hogwarts in an attempt to stop Black from entering the school. Dementors feed on happiness, emptying their victims of comfort and joy until they are left with nothing but an empty, soulless shell. Harry, whenever he gets close to one of these foul beings, hears his mother's last words as she attempts to protect one-year-old Harry from Voldemort, and fails. Harry becomes haunted by these sounds whenever the Dementors come near him.
Harry is thirteen during this story, and his growing up is reflected in the problems he and his friends face. To be perfectly clear, I would not recommend this book for very young children, but each child is different and you can evaluate your kids' ability to handle these scarier moments better than I can.
He didn't say anything because he's too busy grinning. B absolutely LOVES the Harry Potter series. But when I pressed him:
"It's scarier, it's got more magic, it's amazing!"
So, there you go.
"...Did he really have to go to the sleeping room (Harry and Ron's dormitory)?"
This is the first book we've read that scared one of the kids into not wanting to go to sleep (and that's even including the rather creepy Coraline), and to my surprise that kid ended up being A. It took a bit of time and comforting words, but eventually he was OK and was able to go to sleep. The aforementioned break-in scene was the only incident that caused this reaction, despite (in my opinion) much scarier scenes elsewhere, and it just goes to show that you can't always predict what your kids will react to.
Finally we have K's opinion, and she couldn't keep her jaw off the floor because of a particular scene when it was revealed that (MASSIVE SPOILERS):
"The rat was a person the whole time?!"
Yes, sweetie. The whole time.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban starts the gradual slide into more mature content that the series became famous for, what with a serial murderer running around a school and constant predictions of Harry's impending doom. However, it's also thrilling, scary, joyous, and funny. Harry, Ron and Hermione's third year at Hogwarts is just as much fun as the first two books, and Rowling's deft writing (as well as Kay's magical illustrations) make for a nearly perfect read-aloud experience. The chapters are long, and yet not long enough. I highly recommend this book to any read-aloud families out there.
Recommended Age: 6 and up