Harry Potter &
the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter &
the Sorcerer's Stone

Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling
(Scholastic, $19.95) ISBN 0-43913635-0
The word on the street is that J. K. Rowling has plans to write seven Harry Potter books. My educated opinion: That's not enough. The first three are publishing phenomenons, with good reason. Harry Potter is delightfully appealing whether you're eight, eighty or any age in between. When's the last time that adults, as well as children, were raving about the same books? When's the last time that adults and children were talking about the same books . . . and discussing them with each other? As a librarian, I've never seen anything to match the interest and excitement that Harry is causing. It's magical in itself.

The third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, begins the summer before Harry is to enter his third year of wizard training at Hogwarts Academy. He's barely endured the summer with the Dursleys, and when Uncle Vernon's sister, Marge, comes for a week, it's too much. Uncle Vernon, a Muggle (that's a non-magical person), can't tell his sister that Harry is a student at Hogwarts. Oh, no, that wouldn't do! So he's told Marge that Harry is a student at St. Brutus's Secure Center for Incurably Criminal Boys. Marge makes the mistake of criticizing Harry's parents and before Harry can control his anger, he causes Marge to blow up like a monstrous balloon. Suitable outcome for a windbag, I thought.

Fearing that he's broken wizard law, Harry leaves the Dursleys in a panic. He's rescued by The Knight Bus, emergency transportation for the stranded witch or wizard, a bus that's perfect for Harry's world. It's driven by an inept conductor, Stan Shunpike, who keeps veering onto sidewalks. That's okay, though. Lamps, mailboxes and trash cans just jump out of the way.

People on the bus are all in a tizzy about Sirius Black, the only wizard ever to escape from Azkaban fortress. Black is so feared that the Ministry of Magic has even informed the Muggle Prime minister about his escape. Harry finds out accidentally from overhearing a conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Weasley that Black, who is the title's prisoner of Azkaban, is after Harry. Black was good friends with Harry's parents, yet betrayed them to Voldemort, the Dark Lord. Because of Black, Harry's life is now in jeopardy.

The three Harry Potter books are a textbook example of what a series should be. Harry, Ron and Hermione have grown and matured in the three books. Percy Weasley, now Head Boy, is as unctuous as ever. George and Fred Weasley are charming rascals. Hagrid is still surrounded by magical creatures, this time by Buckbeak, a hippogriff who becomes embroiled with the smarmy Draco Malfoy. Quidditch is still as magically entertaining as ever. An important character is the new teacher of Defense against the Dark Arts, a . . . ! Ah, that's a secret!

I had wondered if J. K. Rowling would be able to sustain the surprises and my amazement and delight in her fantasy world with each successive story. In book one I was awed by Hogwarts, with its talking pictures, headless ghosts, supernatural mirrors, mail-delivering owls, and a myriad of other fun stuff. Book two adds to the list. What could J. K. Rowling do to keep the reader's interest in book three? Plenty! Wait until you meet the Dementors, ghoulish apparitions who are Azkaban's guards. You'll still be awed by Rowling's fertile imagination.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is full of action, but this time I found added interest and complexity in the characters. With each book Harry is learning more about his mom and dad. In several poignant scenes we're shown the extent of Harry's loss and his yearning for a family. By the last chapter I was getting misty eyed. By that last chapter I was also tense, surprised, smiling and ready for the fourth installment. It can't come too soon to suit me . . . or millions of other eager readers.

--Linda Mowery

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