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"Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," by J.K. Rowling; Scholastic Press, 435 pages, $19.95.

Harry Potter is back.

As in the first two books about the bespectacled boy wizard, the third installment in this hugely popular fantasy series starts off with Harry finishing up another dreadful summer with his horrible aunt and uncle and going off to Hogwarts, a school for wizards.

This time there's a new threat to Harry's life. It seems that one Sirius Black was convicted of murder in the deaths of Harry's parents, has just managed to escape from the terrible prison at Azkaban and is believed to be headed to Hogwarts to finish off Harry.

There's a subplot about Harry's friend, the gamekeeper Hagrid, running into trouble with his first shot at teaching a "Care of Magical Creatures" class when a "hippogriff" named Buckbeak bites Harry's enemy, Draco Malfoy. There's another subplot involving Harry's friends Ron and Hermione and their warring pets, a rat named Scabbers and a cat named Crookshanks. There's also an interesting new character, Professor Lupin, and a creepy new life form, black-robed "Dementors" who can suck up your soul with a kiss.

The by-now-predictable elements from the other books are also here: the nasty Dursley relatives, more advanced wizardry courses, new varieties of weird candy (blood lollipops and sugar quills) and ever more furious games of Quidditch, an airborne mix of hockey and soccer played on broomsticks. (Harry's new-model broomstick sounds really nifty, but I must say I am really bored with reading the play-by-play in these Quidditch games!)

But Rowling has a winning formula here, and she adds enough new elements to keep kids reading all 435 pages and coming back for more.

-- Jean Westmoore


Catch Buffalo Bills quarterback Doug Flutie on the cover of the September issue of Sports Illustrated for Kids under the legend: "Too Small? No Way!" The centerfold story notes that the NFL wouldn't take Flutie after he got out of Boston College because he was only 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighed 174 pounds. Some Flutie trivia: His favorite movies are "Arthur" and "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery." His favorite band is Aerosmith. The place he would most like to visit is the Grand Canyon. His favorite TV show is ESPN's "SportsCenter." His favorite food is pepperoni pizza. His favorite book is "The Outsiders" by S.E. Hinton, and his favorite cartoon character is Scooby-Doo.


Wilson Sporting Goods, manufacturer of the official NFL football since 1941, is sponsoring a national essay contest for kids 12 and under, with the grand prize an all-expenses paid trip to Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta. The contest poses the following questions; "Why is the NFL football shaped as it is?," "Why is the football brown?" and "What changes would you make to improve the NFL football?" Your response, in an essay of 750 words or less (and including a photo or drawing to illustrate your design), must be received by 5 p.m. Nov. 19. Mail your entry to Get in NFL Shape, c/o The Sherry Group, 600 Parsippany Road, Parsippany, N.J. 07054, or enter through the Wilson Web site at


Where do you go to buy loud games?

Noise R Us.

Where do you go to buy a baby brother?

Boys R Us.

-- Knight Ridder

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