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Top 100 Children’s Novels (#14)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (1999)
(#1)(#1)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#3)(#3) (#3)(#3)(#3)(#3)(#3)(#4)(#4)(#4) (#4)(#4)(#5)(#5)(#5)(#6)(#6)(#7) (#8)(#8)(#9)(#9)(#10)(#10)(#10) – 197 points

"Goblet of Fire" might be the title that turns the tide of the Harry’s story, but for me, "Azkaban" begins the growth of Harry’s character. It perfectly represents that space between child and young adult, where Harry’s world is expanding, both physical and emotional. It also doesn’t hurt that "Azkaban" introduces my favorite Potter character, Professor Lupin. – Sharon Thackston

When they were starting to get complex and interesting but before they stopped being tightly-editing and thus became bloated. Everything just falls together so that you know Sirius is evil… and then it all flips on its head and just falls together so that you know Sirius is hella messed up, but not evil. – Miriam Newman

As a Potter-phile, it’s hard to narrow the series down to just one book. The first book did a great job setting the stage, and boy, when I read it, I knew it’s a book I would have loved as a kid. The second book felt like a formulaic rehash of the first, but with the third book, The Prisoner of Azkaban, that shit got real (please pardon my language). Suddenly this world of wizardry was being used to address topics of greater importance, and the emotional world of the characters became rapidly more mature. Sure, I loved all the books that came after, but this one remains my favorite (and my favorite of the movies as well). – Amy (Media Macaroni)

I have always felt that the 3rd book in the Harry series is the strongest. The emotional reality of Harry’s longing for family, the mystery quality of the true identity of Sirius Black, the revelation that your parents may have been less than stellar characters in their own youth (well, at least your father), and the stunning debut of the Dementors (perhaps the most astounding metaphor in all of literature for the illness we know in real life as Depression) put Prisoner of Azkaban at the top of my own personal Harry Potter fetish. – Connie Rockman, Children’s Literature Consultant, Program Coordinator, Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature, Stratford, CT

All I can say is, "I solemnly swear I’m up to no good." – Dr. Patricia M. Stohr-Hunt, Chair, Education Department, University of Richmond

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.











United Kingdom

United States

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 Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth 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.


  1. David Ziegler says

    This is one of my favorite Harry Potters, my most favorite being the first. Just as with those who like different Star Trek TV series, tho, you have to give credit to the first in the series, or there would have been none of the sequels. So I still think Stone will be in the top ten, possibly the top 5.

  2. I have always loved this one. I think it’s the dementors and the darkness. This is when it got a little more serious and you realized they were going to age with the characters.

    Mischief managed!

  3. I loved this one best because Voldemort wasn’t the bad guy. I know that ultimately he was, but the whole book you are thinking you hate Sirius Black and in one chapter he goes from being hated to being beloved.

  4. Diana Peterfreund says

    Wow, that Ukrainian cover is the only one I’ve ever seen that got Hermione’s hair “right” the way it was in my head. Also, I noticed that some foreign books call her Joanne K. Rowling. Interesting.

    #3 has been my favorite since I first read it.

  5. Melissa (Book Nut) says

    I’m surprised: I expected this one to be in the top 10! That leaves Sorcerer’s/Philospher’s Stone and Half Blood Prince that haven’t made the list… Perhaps one of them will make it in the top 10???

  6. Perhaps the best part of ALA in Chicago last summer was that it coincided with the Harry Potter exhibit at the Museum of Science. Seeing the actual Buckbeak that was used in the movie, and hearing on the audio tour how everyone on the set developed a fondness for the mechanical marvel, petting him and talking to him … now, that was magical ;-}

    And I agree, Betsy, that werewolf was so cheesy. They must have been running out of budget when they got to that part of the movie …

  7. Ah, sweet relief after the disappointment of today’s BOB decision!

    I hadn’t realized before that it’s the only one without Voldemort, but now my mind is abuzz fitting that into my (and other’s) reactions to it. I wonder if that makes it stand alone (and thus stand out) more, and if that pulls it out of the “the Voldemort thing got too big for the framework she’d started” critique (of the entire series) I’ve heard. Eeeenteresting.

  8. Mandaladreamer says

    I think you’ve reversed the Dutch and Danish covers.

  9. *sigh* I adore “Azkaban”. I just do. It’s my favorite of the films as well. David Thewlis was perfectly cast as Lupin, and I love how Cuaron’s camera is never still, how the frame is never static, because at thirteen, nothing is ever steady in your life. Even if it is just the little things.

    Plus, you get Snape in a dress and a moldy old hat. Bless you, Jo. 🙂

  10. Genevieve says

    My absolute favorite of the series, no question. It was on multiple versions of my list (at #7 and #6) and only dropped out at the end, when I figured others would vote for it and I really needed to add a couple of others.

    I love the sheer brilliance of having the villain be the apparently unimportant and negligibly positive character who’s been around for two books – what a set-up! It left me gasping.

    Professor Lupin is also my favorite HP character beyond Hermione and Harry – he’s the best mentor Harry ever has (how I wish that he had been Harry’s guardian), so sensible except for his blind spot about his personal life, and interesting and unexpected in class. The movie captured him so well, and also Sirius, and got the stories out of formula – I was annoyed at it leaving out the story behind the Marauders’ Map, but otherwise thought it was terrific. Alfonso Cuaron also directed one of my other favorite book-to-movies, A Little Princess, sensitively and gorgeously. He needs to do more movies of kids’ books!

    Love all the comments you quoted, Betsy – some great analysis there.

  11. Good catch, Mandaladreamer. They did get switched. Corrected.

  12. Mrs. Mordecai says

    I just realized we have this book in three different languages at our house.

  13. I have to agree with Miriam’s point about the editing. The last four books could have easily lost a lot of verbiage while keeping up the excitement, world-building, and characterization.

    Azkaban has always been my favorite, too. Curing the after effects of the dementors with chocolate? Brilliant!

  14. Brooke Shirts says

    I still have days when I covet Hermione’s time-traveling necklace. Sigh . . .

  15. You and me both, sister.

  16. This one’s my favorite, too. (I should have voted for it, but used the first one as a stand-in for the series.) One of the things I loved was that Harry finally got a father-figure in his life.

    We went on vacation in England the week it came out there and bought a copy in Cambridge. We read the whole book aloud, with lots of it done on country roads in England. That was also the book where we started the tradition of everyone having a chocolate chip whenever the word “Dementor” was read. If the book said “Dementors,” then we each got two chocolate chips! It was a great tradition for a family read-aloud.

  17. My favorite along with the 5th. Like Harry I coveted those awful last minutes with his parents when he could again hear thier voice.

    Also the whole time-travel ballet at the end was so complex, yet so clearly written.

  18. Aaron Mead says

    Azkaban is second for me, behind Deathly Hallows (I can’t resist a good wrap-up!), though I love it dearly. The first two felt very formulaic to me, like the mystery was somehow set out in advance (like an obstacle course) for the kids to solve–which was perhaps appropriate for 10- and 11-year-olds, but not as interesting for me. But in this third book the deep plot seemed suddenly to extend out into the distance. With Wormtail’s ominous escape, Rowling stirred in me anxiety that outstripped the plot of Azkaban. For me, this is where real, difficult-to-manage evil finally showed its head, and made the series gripping.

  19. RM1(SS) (ret) says

    My favourite HP at last!

    Sondy: I like the chocolate-chip idea. 8)

  20. RM1(SS) (ret) says

    Oh – love that second Swedish cover (the grey one)!! And the Finnish covers are starting to grow on me….

  21. Genevieve says

    I love that second Swedish cover too! It looks like a place in England (and another in France) where there’s a little castle on an island – can’t remember the names. Anyway, the cover is very atmospheric and just the right amount of foreboding.

  22. I’ve a soft spot in my heart for the Finns too.

  23. angelina41 says

    I like how the Harry Potter on the front of the German cover looks like he belongs in a Sprockets SNL skit.

  24. Genevieve says

    Now is ze time on Shprockets when ve manage mischief!


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