Category Archives: Children’s Literature

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – J.K. Rowling

Hey Loves!

Firstly, I apologise for my absence. I’ve been a bit under the weather but I’m fighting fit again now, thankfully.

Time today for the penultimate Harry Potter book: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I’ve really been enjoying re reading the series and part of me is sad that it’s all coming to an end again. Nevertheless, the beauty of books is that you can read and reread, especially the ones we love. I find it soothes the soul, for sure.

I hope you enjoy this review. Thanks for sticking with me for the series!

What’s it all about?

Back with our favourite duo! The novel opens with Severus Snap, a member of the Order of the Phoenix, meeting with Narcissa Malloy and Bellatrix Lestrange. Narcissa expresses her grave concern for her son, Draco following his dangerous mission given to him by Voldemort. Snape makes an Unbreakable Vow with Narcissa, vowing to keep Draco safe.

An Unbreakable Vow?” said Ron, looking stunned. “Nah, he can’t have…. Are you sure?”
“Yes I’m sure,” said Harry. “Why, what does it mean?”
“Well, you can’t break an Unbreakable Vow…”
“I’d worked that much out for myself, funnily enough.

Dumbledore arrives at Privet Drive to take Harry to the Burrow. They detour to the home of Horace Slughorn, former Potions teacher at Hogwarts, and Harry manages to persuade him to return to teaching.

On the return to school via the Hogwarts Express, Harry suspects Draco has become a Death Eater. Using his invisibility cloak, Harry eavesdrops on Draco in his carriage where he is bragging about his mission. Draco catches Harry in the process, petrifies him and breaks his nose. Nymphadora Tonks finds Harry and takes him back to the castle. There, Dumbledore announces to the school that Snape will be teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts, while Slughorn teaches Potions.

One lesson, Harry borrows a textbook from a cupboard. This book once belonged to the mysterious “Half-Blood Prince” who clearly excelled at Potions. In the margin the owner wrote notes and tweaks to potions. Harry excels at the subject as well, winning a bottle of Felix Felicis or “Liquid Luck”. His success pleases Slughorn immensely but angers Hermione who is distrusting of the book.

Over time, Ron and Hermione grow closer but Ron learns from Ginny about Hermione’s history with Victor Krum. To make Hermione jealous, Ron decides to go out with Lavender Brown. Harry is aware of his own feelings for Ginny but is conflicted because of his friendship with Ron. Following a Gryffindor Quidditch win, Ron gives them his blessing.

Harry looked around; there was Ginny running toward him; she had a hard blazing look in her face as she threw her arms around him. And without thinking, without planning it, without worrying about the fact that fifty people were watching, Harry kissed her. After several long moments, or it might have been half an hour-or possibly several sunlit days- they broke apart.

Meanwhile, as the year goes on, Draco becomes more unhinged. As a result, he invites Harry to duel with him. During the duel, Harry uses an unknown spell from his borrowed book which nearly kills Draco. Snaps saves him but more questions about the book are raised.

Dumbledore tries to help Harry with his foretold battle with Voldemort using the Pensieve to examine memories of people who had met Voldemort before. One of the memories involves Slughorn talking with Tom Riddle during his time at Hogwarts. The problem with this memory is it has been tampered with. Dumbledore asks Harry to obtain the real one from Slughorn in order to find out exactly what was discussed.

To retrieve the memory, Harry uses the Felix Felicis. The memory shows Slughorn and Riddle discussing the process of splitting one’s soul and hiding it in Horcruxes, making the using immortal. Voldemort took this one step further by creating six Horcrux which must all be destroyed in order to destroy Voldemort completely. We know that two have already been destroyed – the diary from The Chamber of Secrets and a ring from Voldemort’s grandfather. Four remain…

Harry and Dumbledore journey to a cave to a cave where Dumbledore suspects a Horcrux to be. The focus of this adventure is Slytherin’s locket. They do manage to find the locket in a potion filled basin in the middle of an underground lake. The locket can only be reached by drinking the potion, something that Dumbledore demands he does. He begs Harry to make him keep drinking, despite what he may say. He does so, severely weakening Dumbledore. Nevertheless, they’ve got the locket and return to Hogwarts.

“Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.”

Upon their return, they see the Dark Mark over a school tower. The pair climb the tower and are all ambushed by Draco, who reveals that his mission from Voldemort is to kill Dumbledore. Draco cannot do it. He is consumed by fear. Whilst hiding in the shadows, Harry spots Snape arriving. He thinks he is there to help Dumbledore, but he is wrong. Snape kills him.

Harry ignores the fact that Hogwarts is being taken over by Death Eaters because his attention is on getting Snape. Snape surprises him by revealing he is the Half-Blood Prince and then escaped with the rest of Voldemort’s followers.

Harry slips into deep despair and decides he has to break up with Ginny. After all, he would just be putting her at risk. He also learns that the locket is a fake, containing a note from something named “RAB”. Harry announces to his friends that he is going to search for the remaining Horcruxes the following year, rather than returning to Hogwarts.

We’ll be there, Harry,” said Ron
“What?”
“At your Aunt and Uncle’s house,” said Ron, “And then we’ll go with you wherever you’re going.”
“No-” said Harry quickly; he hadn’t counted on this, he had meant them to understand that he was undertaking the most dangerous journey alone. 
“You said it once before,” said Hermione quickly, “that there was time to turn back if we wanted to. We’ve had time, haven’t we? We’re with you whatever happens.

Final Thoughts

It’s this book that reminds me what heart break feels like. The death of Dumbledore definitely shocked the Potter world when this book was initially published. The second time around hit me just as hard. I felt what Harry was feeling – the beauty of incredible writing. I’ve said it so many times but the language gets darker along with the magic. The penultimate serves its purpose – we have to know what happens at the end. Will Harry win? Will they find the Horcruxes? What will happen next?

Continue to stay safe and well all.

Big love xxx

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Filed under Book review, Books, Children's Literature, Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J.K. Rowling

Hi Lovelies!!

How are you all? The sunshine has been beautiful and this also means it’s the perfect weather for reading. I’ve got some reviews I really need to catch up on so I hope you’ll be patient with me whilst I get through them. I hope you have been enjoying the weather and making some lovely memories this summer. Anyway, it’s time for me to review the next book in the Harry Potter series: The Order of the Phoenix. Here goes!

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What’s it all about?

As per all the other novels, The Order of the Phoenix begins in the summer holidays where Harry is back with his Aunt and Uncle Dursley. During one day, Harry and his cousin Dudley are attacked by Dementors. Harry openly casts his patronus to save Dudley and himself. Due to performing under age magic, Harry is expelled from Hogwarts. However, this is postponed pending a hearing at the Ministry of Magic. Harry is clearly at more risk than ever so it is decided that one evening, a group of wizards would whisk him away to 12 Grimmauld Place, the childhood home of Sirius Black. Grimmauld Place has become the headquarters of the Order. These wizards are willing to risk their own life for Harry. The likes of Mad-Eye Moody, Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks and Kingsley Shacklebolt are all part of the guard to move Harry safely.

Ron and Hermione explain to Harry that the Order is a secret organisation led by Albus Dumbledore dedicating to fighting Lord Voldemort and his Death Eater followers. From here, they learn that Voldemort is seeking something he did not have prior to his first defeat. The Ministry of Magic, led by Cornelius Fudge, refuses to acknowledge anything about Voldemort’s return. They don’t want people to panic and live in fear again. After all, they only have the word of Harry and his friends. Instead, the Ministry decide to launch and run a smear campaign against Harry and Dumbledore with the Daily Prophet.

The day of Harry’s trial approaches but Harry doesn’t get to speak. Dumbledore does this for him. He questions the use of magic in self-defence and probes to know why the Dementors are out lose in suburban Britain. Harry saved his cousins life, for sure. As a result of Dumbledore’s questioning, Harry is cleared of all charges.

“You know, Minister, I disagree with Dumbledore on many counts…but you cannot deny he’s got style…”

Hogwarts should be a safe place for Harry but seeing the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher is none other than Dolores Umbridge, a senior employee in the Ministry of Magic. Like Fudge, she also refuses to acknowledge the return of Voldemort. Her and Harry clash daily, with her punishing Harry by having him write ‘I must not tell lies’ into the back of his hand with a cursed quill during detention. Despite being a Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, she refuses to teach them or let them perform any defensive spells. Harry, Ron and Hermione know the need for these spells so decide to start their own group with any students willing to join if they wish to learn. Umbridge bans any clubs that are not approved by her but Dobby informs Harry about the Room of Requirement. Here they could meet in secret and practice defensive spells under Harry’s instruction. They named themselves, Dumbledore’s Army.

Whilst all of this is happening, the absence of Hagrid is ever apparent. Upon his return, Harry, Ron and Hermione learn that he was (unsuccessfully) trying to prevent the last of the giants from joining Voldemort. Umbridge continues to increase her power and influence within the school. She begins to inspect teachers with the intension of sacking them.

One night when Harry is sleeping, he dreams that he sees through the eyes of Voldemort’s snake, Nagini, who is possessed by him. What Harry sees is Nagini attacking Arthur Weasley. Harry, alarmed, heads straight for Professor McGonagall and Professor Dumbledore. As a result of this, Arthur is rescued and saved. He could have died if it wasn’t for Harry. Dumbledore is concerned that Voldemort could use Harry without him realising so organises Occlumency lessons with Professor Snape. This should mean that Harry would be able to protect his mind against any manipulation from Voldemort. Surprisingly, Snape is also a member of the Order.

Hogwarts is becoming a darker, more miserable place because of Umbridge. She makes many changes in the school. She publicly sacks Professor Trelawney, the Divination teacher. Soon after, Umbridge learns about Dumbledore’s Army after a tip off from Cho Chang’s friend, Marietta Edgecombe. To prevent Harry’s expulsion, Dumbledore takes full responsibility for the group and is forced into hiding. Umbridge then becomes headmistress but Fred and George happily cause pandemonium around the school in revenge.

Harry also struggles with his Occlumency lessons. During one lesson, Snape is called away, leaving behind Dumbledore’s Pensieve, on which he had been storing members he did not wish Harry to see. Driven by curiosity, Harry uses the Pensieve and sees a memory of Snape being bullied by his father, James Potter and Sirius. Snape catches Harry and ends the lesson furious with him. More concerning for Harry is the fact that his father wasn’t particularly nice or friendly. He needs to speak to Sirius to find out what exactly went on. He decides to sneak into Umbridge’s office to use Floo powder to speak with Lupin and Sirius in the fireplace. This wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Fred and George. The two decide that their talents are wasted at Hogwarts so decide to leave and open a joke shop in Diagon Alley.

“The mind is not a book, to be opened at will and examined at leisure. Thoughts are not etched on the inside of skulls, to be perused by an invader. The mind is a complex and many-layered thing.”

Umbridge takes a natural disliking to Hagrid due to him being half giant, and his inspection goes badly. Hagrid confides to Harry, Ron and Hermione that he has brought his giant half brother, Grawp, to Hogwarts and has hidden him in the Forbidden Forest. He’s asked the trio to look after him if Hagrid is forced to leave Hogwarts. During the student OWL exams, Umbridge attacks Hagrid one night with a pack of Aurors. Hagrid overpowers them but flees the school for his own safety. McGonagall is injured in the attack and is put in St. Mungo’s Hospital, meaning that Harry has lost two people who support and protect him.

On the last day of the OWL exams, Harry has a vision of Sirius being tortured by Voldemort in the Department of Mysteries. Once again, Harry uses the fireplace belonging to Umbridge to connect with Grimmauld Place to see if the vision was genuine. Kreacher, the house elf, confirms this. Harry is caught by Umbridge and she summons Snape, intending to use Veritaserum to question Harry. Surprisingly, Snape claims he has none left. Harry cryptically warns Snape about Sirius but Snape feigns misunderstanding.

Umbridge reveals that she ordered the Dementor attack on Harry and Dudley over the summer to silence him. She also decides to use the illegal Cruciatus Curse on Harry to interrogate him, but Hermione intervenes, convincing Umbridge that they are hiding a weapon of Dumbledore’s in the Forbidden Forest. Following Hermione’s lead, Umbridge follows Harry and Hermione to the forest which is inhabited by centaurs. Umbridge provokes them and they take her captive. With Grawp’s help, Harry and Hermione escape.

Luna, Ron, Ginny and Neville join them in the forest and they fly to the Ministry of Magic on Thestrals in order to save Sirius. Once they are at the Ministry, they cannot find him anywhere. What they do find though is a glass sphere with Harry’s and Voldemort’s name on it. Death Eaters arrive, led by Lucius Malfoy and attack in order to secure the sphere, which happens to be the object that Voldemort has been trying to locate. This sphere is a recording of a prophecy concerning the two. As the subjects of the prophecy are the only ones who can remove them, Harry is brought there under false visions planted by Voldemort. Harry and his friends are soon joined by members of the Order and battle the Death Eaters. During the battle, Neville accidentally destroys the prophecy and Bellatrix Lestrange kills Sirius.

Harry chases after her but is clearly no match. Voldemort arrives to kill Harry himself but Dumbledore also chooses this moment to come out of hiding. Voldemort, unable to kill Dumbledore, possesses Harry in an attempt to get him to kill Dumbledore. Harry fights off the possession and Voldemort escapes just as Fudge appears. Now he has seen Voldemort himself, Fudge has no choice but to accept the truth now. He is back.

Later, in his office, Dumbledore explains that Snape understood the warning from Harry and after Harry failed to return from the Forest, alerted the Order, enabling them to save Harry and his friends. Dumbledore also shares that Kreacher had informed Narcissa Malfoy, of the close relationship between Harry and Sirius. This information was crucial for Voldemort as he knew exactly what false memory to plant to make Harry do exactly what he needed.

Harry has to stay with the Dursleys for one last summer. He learns that because Aunt Petunia, Lily’s sister, took Harry into her home, she seals the protection Harry gained from his mother when she died. As long as he is at Number Four, Privet Drive, he is safe from Voldemort and his followers. Dumbledore shares the prophecy, made by Professor Trelawney, with Harry. The prophecy had foretold the birth of someone with the power to defeat Voldemort. One of Voldemort’s followers heard this and informed him. Although the prophecy pointed at either Harry or Neville, Voldemort believed it to be about Harry, which is why he tried to kill him as a baby. The rest of the prophecy hinted that Voldemort would unknowingly mark his opponent as an equal. Eventually, one would have to kill the other.

“I DON’T CARE!” Harry yelled at them, snatching up a lunascope and throwing it into the fireplace. “I’VE HAD ENOUGH, I’VE SEEN ENOUGH, I WANT OUT, I WANT IT TO END, I DON’T CARE ANYMORE!”
“You do care,” said Dumbledore. He had not flinched or made a single move to stop Harry demolishing his office. His expression was calm, almost detached. “You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it.”

The loss of Sirius, the feeling of guilt and the weight of the prophecy results in Harry becoming quite low. At least now the wizarding community know that he was telling the truth and in turn gains him more respect. His friends and loved ones give him the motivation he needs to return to the Dursleys for one final summer.

Final Thoughts

You guys all know how much I love the Harry Potter books but what is even better now is reading them again as an adult, I appreciate things I probably didn’t notice as a young reader. The language is darker the deeper we get into the series, the threat becomes more menacing and Voldemort gets worse with age. I do firmly believe that my generation grew up with Harry. What is amazing now is that we have a whole new generation doing the same. It’s so special and so magical.

Take care all. Big love xxxx

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Filed under Book review, Books, Children's Literature, Harry Potter, Reading

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – J.K. Rowling

Hey Lovelies!

How are you all doing? Well, it’s the summer holiday. What a strange school year it has been but I’m glad for the break. I feel mentally exhausted. Like many of us, my summer holiday has been cancelled but rather than thinking what could have been, I’m focusing on what amazing opportunities I’ve got now: time and books. I’ve fallen behind with my posting but at least I’ll be able to catch up again now.

Time for my review on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling. You may have remembered that I’m reading all the Harry Potter books again as part of my ‘list of 30 things I want to do’ which featured on my birthday post earlier this month. I hope you enjoy taking this journey with me!

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What’s it all about?

The novel opens with Harry seeing the three Riddles being murdered in a dream. They weren’t hurt but had a petrified face. Everyone assumed the culprit is Frank Bryce, the caretaker of the Riddle house, but he was released. Later in the dream, Frank Bryce is murdered by Voldemort. Harry is awoken by the searing pain in his scar. He knows what that feeling means…

The Weasleys invite Harry and Hermione to the Quidditch World cup where they meet Cedric Diggory, a Hufflepuff sixth year student on the way. The match is electric. Ireland beat Bulgaria despite them having Viktor Krum, their star seeker. Whilst at the match, the Ministry of Magic employees discuss Bertha Jorkins, a missing Ministry worker. However, her head of department, Ludo Bagman, isn’t worried in the slightest.  

As the match ends, things take a turn for the worse. Hooded and masked Death Eaters, followers of Voldemort, attack the camp site causing terror amongst the Muggle campsite owners. The Dark Mark is fired into the sky causing mass panic amongst the magic community. During this time, Harry discovers that his wand is missing. Sometime later it is found in the hands of Winky, Barty Crouch’s house elf, having been used to cast the Mark. Very few believe that Winky could have conjured the Mark but Barty Crouch dismisses Winky from his service.

Back at Hogwarts, Professor Dumbledore announces that Alastor ‘Mad Eye’ Moody will be the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher for that year. Dumbledore also informs the school that Hogwarts will host a revival of the Twiwizard Tournament, in which a champion of Hogwarts will compete against two other champions from European wizarding schools: Beauxbatons Acadmey and Durmstrang Institute. The champions are chosen by the Goblet of Fire following the admission of the names of those who want to enter. One condition: you have to be 17. Therefore, this means that Harry is unable to compete.

Halloween arrives and the Goblet picks its champions. Fleur Delacour from Beauxbatons Academy, Viktor Krum from Durmstrang Institute and Cedric Diggory from Hogwarts. Unexpectedly, the Goblet of Fire also chooses Harry as it’s forth champion. Shock ripples around the Great Hall, anger permiates from the other schools. But, the rules dictate that once a champion is called, they have to compete. Not many fellow students believe that he didn’t enter his own name. Ron becomes jealous of Harry being centre of attention again and the pair end up falling out.

“Harry, Cedric, I suggest you both go up to bed,” said Dumbledore, smiling at both of them. “I am sure Gryffindor and Hufflepuff are waiting to celebrate with you, and it would be a shame to deprive them of this excellent excuse to make a great deal of mess and noise.”

Back to normal lessons and Defence Against the Dark Arts takes a more sinister turn. Professor Moody introduces the class to the Unforgivable Curses: Imperius, Cruciatus and Avada Kadavra. These curses give another wizard the ability to be controlled by another, cause immense pain and kill another, respectively.

The tasks are strictly secret but Hagrid covertly reveals to Harry that the first task is to get past a dragon. Madame Maxime and Professor Karkaroff also learn this information. Certain that they will tell their champions that information, Harry tells Cedric about the dragons in the interest of fairness. Harry really struggles to think of a way to get past a dragon – after all, it isn’t something they do every day! Professor Moody suggests flying and Hermione helps him to perfect a Summoning Charm, which he uses to call his Firebolt broomstick to fly past the dragon and retrieve the golden egg. As a result, Harry earns high marks from the judges and his friendship with Ron is repaired as he can see that Harry wouldn’t actively chose to be in that much danger. The retrieved egg is also the clue for the next challenge.

Meanwhile, Hermione has concerns of her own. Horrified by Barty Crouch’s treatment of Winky, Hermione creates a house elf welfare campaign. She takes Harry and Ron to the school kitchens to see the elves. There they see Dobby again, the house elf that Harry freed. They also find Winky there but she is significantly more distressed than Dobby. Dobby is the only house elf to appreciate his freedom despite his hardworking nature. The other house elves reject Hermione’s idea of payment and holidays which they find distressing.  

“Oh you is a bad elf, Dobby!”

In line with the Triwizard Tournament, the students are informed of the Yule Ball, a tradition of the tournament, which requires Harry finding a partner to open the dance with. He askes Cho Chang, who he likes, but she’s already going with Cedric. Harry then asks Parvati and Padma Patil to go with him and Ron. Hermione, deeply offended that Ron only considered her as a second resort, attends with Viktor Krum, resulting in more jealousy from Ron. At the ball, Cedric repays Harry the favour and tells him to take the egg into the bath in the prefects’ bathroom to work out the clue.

“The words came out before Harry had quite got his tongue around them.
“Wangoballwime?”
“Sorry?” said Cho.
“D’you — d’you want to go to the ball with me?” said Harry.
Why did he have to go red now? Why?

Harry, Ron and Hermione secretly meet in Sirius at Hogsmeade, who tells them that Barty Crouch was fanatical about catching and punishing dark wizards. The resulted in Crouch sending his own son to Azkaban where he later died. Sirius suspects that someone is attempting to attack Harry through the Tournament. There are suspicions but the name that is most suspected is Karkaroff, a former Death Eater.

Pondering on what Cedric told Harry, he takes the egg to the prefects’ bathroom. There he stumbles across Moaning Myrtle and where he learns that he will have to retrieve something dear to him from the Merpeople at the bottom of the lake in Hogwarts grounds. Whilst sneaking back to the Gryffindor Tower under the invisibility cloak, he seems Barty Crouch on the Marauder’s Map, despite him being too ill to judge the Triwizard Tournament. Unfortunately, Harry falls into a trick step and drops the egg which attracts the attention of caretaker Filch, Snape and Moody. Moody’s magical eye means that he can see Harry stuck under his cloak, but doesn’t reveal him.

Despite the day of the second task approaching, Harry, Ron and Hermione are completely unable to find a way of surviving underwater. On the morning of the task Harry gets a visit from Dobby who gives him Gillyweed. Dobby overheard a conversation involving Moody and decides to tell his friend Harry. Gillyweed gives Harry the ability to breathe underwater where he find Ron and the other hostages at the bottom of the lake. Whilst Harry retrieves Ron, he feels like he cannot leave behind any other hostages behind. After looking around for Fleur, Harry decides to retrieve her sister. Harry finishes last but is given marks for his moral fibre.

With a few weeks to go until the final task, Harry and Krum are talking near the Forbidden Forest where they encounter Barty Crouch, who stopped appearing to work at the Ministry several months ago. He is clearly suffering in many ways, jabbering in a hysterical and crazy manner. He confesses he’s done something terrible, that Bertha Jorkins is dead and begs for Dumbledore. Leaving Krum with Crouch, Harry fetches Dumbledore but returns to find Krum stunned and Crouch gone. Krum comes round to claim that Crouch attacked him from behind.

During a Divination lesson, Harry experiences another dream involving Voldemort where he is punishing Wormtail for a mistake. Harry reports this to Dumbledore and stumbles across a memory keeping device: a Pensieve. Inside the Pensieve, he discovers that Ludo Bagman was accused and acquitted of Death Eater activity and that Barty Crouch’s son was sent to Azkaban for his part in torturing Neville Longbottom’s parents into insanity.

Harry is consumed by preparing for the final task – a hedge maze filled with dangerous creatures and obstacles, the goal being to reach the Twiwizard Cup at the centre. Inside the maze, Harry stuns Krum as he was using the Cruciatus Curse of Cedric. Helping each other by becoming a team, the two reach the cup. They agree to touch it at the same time, making them both winners. However, upon touching it, they discover that it is a Portkey that transports them to a graveyard. There Wormtail appears and kills Cedric. Harry is tied up and gets to watch this happen. Wormtail cuts Harry so he can use his blood to restore Voldemort to a body.

Now restored, Voldemort summons all his Death Eaters and ridicules them for believing him dead. He mentions his faithful servant who is concealed at Hogwarts, who has led Harry to the graveyard. He tortures Harry and challenges him to a duel. But, when Voldemort and Harry fire spells are each other, their wands connect unexpectedly, causing echoes of Voldemort’s previous magic to appear. These include manifestations of Cedric and Harry’s parents. Whilst these provide a distraction for Harry, he manages to escape with Cedric’s body to the cup and is able to return back to Hogwarts.

“He knew one thing only, and it was beyond fear or reason: He was not going to die crouching here like a child playing hide-and-seek; he was not going to die kneeling at Voldemort’s feet . . . he was going to die upright like his father, and he was going to die trying to defend himself, even if no defense was possible. . . .”

Harry’s return causes panic. Moody takes a traumatised Harry to his office. He reveals himself to be Voldemort’s faithful servant and explains that he put Harry’s name into the Goblet of Fire. He’s been guiding Harry to make sure he would touch the cup first. He discussed flying, staged a conversation about Gillyweed that was heard by Dobby, cursed obstacles from outside the hedge maze and used the Imperius Curse on Krum to force him to curse Cedric. As Moody prepares to kill Harry, Snape, Dumbledore, McGonagall all step in, intervene and stun Moody. Slowly, the appearance of Moody changes to become Barty Crouch Jr, the supposedly long dead son of Barty Crouch. By using Polyjuice Potion, he has been able to impersonate Moody thus making him the faithful servant inside the castle.

“Remember Cedric. Remember, if the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right, and what is easy, remember what happened to a boy who was good, and kind, and brave, because he strayed across the path of Lord Voldemort. Remember Cedric Diggory.”

Using Veritaserum, truth telling potion, they learn that the older Barty Crouch rescued his son from Azkaban as a favour to his dying wife. The Crouch who died in Azkaban was his mother, disguised under Polyjuice Potion. The son was kept imprisoned at home. Winky convinced Crouch to allow his son to see the Quidditch World Cup where he stole Harry’s wand. It was he that conjured the Dark Mark. Wormtail had captured Bertha Jorkins and used her for information. This meant that Voldemort was able to discover the younger Crouch’s whereabouts and form a plan to get him inside Hogwarts and lead Harry to him.

Harry learns from Dumbledore that the wands of Harry and Voldemort connected because they share a core of a feather from the same phoenix. This phoenix is Fawkes. Dumbledore announces to the whole school that Voldemort has returned. However, many people refuse to believe it. Cornelius Fudge is one of those non believers. He has the Dementor’s Kiss performed on the younger Crouch meaning his is unable to testify about Voldemort. As a result, Dumbledore decides to put his own plans in place against Voldemort.

“Decent people are so easy to manipulate, Potter.”

The novel ends with Harry giving his winnings secretly to Fred and George Weasley to enable them to open their own joke shop. He returns for yet another summer with the Dursley’s.

Final Thoughts

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love these books. This was the one where I started to feel genuinely frightened as a child reading it. Reading it a second time didn’t make me any less frightened, even though I know what happens. As the trio get older, the threat becomes more harrowing and the magic much darker. I love the constant battle between good, bad and overcoming evil. Cedric is the unsung hero of this book really. He is yet another innocent victim of Voldemort’s long campaign for dark magic. I loved the addition of him and also Winky. Everyone knows I have a soft spot for Dobby too so I’m thrilled he is able to Harry for the underwater challenge. His devotion to Harry is just such a lovely touch. Regardless, book four is just as compelling as book one. Here’s to the next…

Have a great week and I hope to catch up with you all again soon!

Big love all xxx

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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J.K. Rowling

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Hello Lovelies!!

Sorry there’s been a bit of a gap between this post and my last. I am back at school on a new rota system. Whilst it’s lovely to see everyone, it’s so strange remembering to be 2 metres apart and not seeing the rest of my team and fellow colleagues is really strange. Never mind! Things do seem to be getting better slowly, slowly. I hope you are all continuing to be safe and well.

As you may be aware, I am reading my beloved Harry Potter series again. It’s something on my list of things I want to do when I turn 30. Today I want to share with you my review of my favourite Harry Potter book – The Prisoner of Azkaban. I hope you enjoy reliving and following the series with me. If it’s your first experience of Harry, then I especially hope you love it as much as I do!

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What’s it all about?

Summer rolls around again and once again Harry is at the Dursleys’ having a miserable existence. Muggle television airs a report about an escaped convict, Sirius Black. If that wasn’t bad enough, Aunt Marge visits and insults Harry. In retaliation, accidentally, Harry inflates her and runs away from home with the fear of being expelled. He’s at significant risk but thankfully the Knight Bus manages to pick him up. This journey is full of strange new experiences but exciting nonetheless. Harry meets Stan Shunpike, encounters a large black dog that seems to be following him. He travels to the Leaky Cauldron where Cornelius Fudge, the Minister for Magic. He asks Harry to stay in Diagon Alley for his own protection. After time, he is reunited with Ron and Hermione.

“Don’t let the muggles get you down.”

Before their return to Hogwarts, Harry learns from Arthur Weasley that Sirius Black is a convicted murderer. Somehow, it is unknown currently, he managed to escape the wizard prison, Azkaban to kill Harry. On their journey to Hogwarts a Dementor (an Azkaban prison guard) boards the train causing Harry to relive his parents’ death before fainting. In the same carriage was Remus Lupin, the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, who saves them from the Dementor. What is more concerning is the fact that Dementors will be patrolling the school in attempts to catch Sirius Black. Everyone seems to love Lupin. All but one…Snape.

Third years do have a welcomed distraction, IF they have their parents permission. Sadly Harry doesn’t, so trips to Hogsmeade are banned. Instead, Fred and George give him a gift: the Marauder’s Map. What looks like a piece of parchment is actually enchanted to show all the passages and people on Hogwarts grounds. This means that Harry has a way of sneaking out. Sadly, Lupin catches him. What is exciting is that Lupin knows all about it as he was part of the group who made it in their school days.

“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

During a Quidditch match, Harry faints and falls off his broomstick. The cause? Dementors. Dumbledore was naturally furious. As a result, Harry’s beloved Nimbus 2000 is blown away and smashed to pieces by the Whomping Willow. Professor Lupin decides that Harry needs to learn to defend themselves. Therefore, he teaches him how to achieve the Patronus charm.

“Where is Wood?” said Harry, suddenly realizing he wasn’t there.
“Still in the showers,” said Fred. “We think he’s trying to drown himself.”

Meanwhile, Ron and Hermione are at loggerheads as Ron is under the impression that Hermione’s cat, Crookshanks, has eaten his rat, Scabbers. Hermione is also incredible critical about the anonymous Christmas present Harry receives: a Firebolt broomstick. She’s worried it could have been cursed or jinxed by Sirius Black. Hermione’s stresses continue as she has many classes, some at the same time. She absolutely refuses to explain how she achieves this to Harry and Ron.

Malfoy continues to be up to his old tricks but this time his target is Hagrid. Hagrid’s hippogriff Buckbeak is in danger of being executed by the Ministry of Magic after injuring him. Malfoy did deserve it as he failed to listened to the instructions given by Hagrid. His father is pushing for punishment. Hermione and Ron work tirelessly to try and defend the hippogriff. The trio hear Buckbeak executed as they leave Hagrid’s hut. The rift between Hermione and Ron is healed when Scabbers is spotted and returned to him.

Things take a turn for the strange and Scabbers escaped again. However, this time the large black dog appears and drags Ron into a tunnel under the Whomping Willow. The others have no choice but to follow ultimately ending up in the Shrieking Shack, a haunted house in Hogsmeade. It is revealed that the dog is in fact Sirius Black. Harry feels like he has to kill him, but he can’t.

Lupin arrives but weirdly, hugs and embraces Black as a friend. We learn that the belief that Sirius betrayed the Potters was not true. It was Peter Pettigrew. Lupin admits he is a werewolf and that the Marauders (Black, Pettigrew and James Potter) learned how to transform into animals to help support Lupin. Scabbers is Pettigrew. He faked his own death, framed Black for the murders and has been hiding ever since.

We saw at the start the hostility between Lupin and Snape. This continued – Snape hates Harry remember? Snape arrives to apprehend Black but is knocked out by Harry, Ron and Hermione, who now know Sirius is innocent. Lupin and Black transform Pettigrew into human form and prepare to kill him. Harry stops them. He knows his father would not have wanted that. What is fair and right is to send him back to Azkaban.

“You think the dead we loved truly ever leave us? You think that we don’t recall them more clearly in times of great trouble?”

Pettigrew, slimy as ever, manages to escape and the full moon transforms Lupin into a wolf. The problems continue for Harry, Ron, Hermione and Black as they are chased to the shore of the lake. Here, waiting for them is the Dementors. Just as hope was feeling lost, a Patronus charm saves them, cast by Harry’s dad, he believes.

“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

Harry awoke later in the hospital wing full of panic and confusion. Harry and Hermione are told that Black has been sentenced to the Dementor’s Kiss. This is where the Dementor’s suck out the soul of their prisoner. Pettigrew’s escape means that Black is still a convicted murderer. Professor Dumbledore tells Harry and Hermione that there is a way to save many innocent lives in one evening. Hermione has a way of attending classes that seem to be on at the same time: a time-turner. The two set off on a mission to go back in time to save Buckbeak and Sirius.

Whilst on this mission, Harry sees himself at the side of the lake. Harry learns that it wasn’t his father who summoned the Patronus charm, it was him. Buckbeak escapes with Sirius on his back. The two are saved. Time ticks away but thankfully Harry and Hermione return to the hospital wing to close the timeline. Snape is furious with Lupin and reveals to all that he is a werewolf, resulting in Lupin’s resignation. Harry returns to Kings Cross with his friends. What is different this year, is a letter from Sirius, giving him permission to visit Hogsmeade next year.

“He was my mum and dad’s best friend. He’s a convicted murderer, but he’s broken out of wizard prison and he’s on the run. He likes to keep in touch with me, though…keep up with my news…check if I’m happy…”

Final Thoughts

I think the reason why I like this book the most is because we have two brilliant characters: Lupin and Black. I love his misunderstood Black is and the fact that he has been in prison, a hell, for years for something one of his friends did, not him. As the trio get older, the magic gets darker. I also like this because it’s really good to see Hermione centre stage. She is the one with the knowledge and the history but here we saw her put that into action. After all, she is the only one with a time-turner. I think it is also good to see niggles and fallings out between the trio – it is reminiscent of real life in that sense. I’m absolutely loving re-reading these. They do get bigger and darker now too which is great.

I hope you’ve enjoyed Book Three! Here’s to the next: The Goblet of Fire. See you next time for the Reading Challenge Book Review for June and hopefully more cakes! Stay safe everyone!!

Big love all. xx

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Filed under Book review, Children's Literature, Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling

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Hello Lovelies!

We are hurtling through May at such a pace that I really just don’t know where the time is going. All I do know is that around my sporadic days at school, I have managed to do a lot of reading which I am always grateful for. I’ve tried really hard to help support local businesses to which is always lovely.

The time has also given me the opportunity to get some serious thinking done! This year marks a big birthday for me so I decided to make a list of 30 things I want to do in the next year. It’s very much a work in progress, don’t get me wrong. However, I have started on one thing from the list: rereading all of the Harry Potter books. I remember when each one was published. I was very much a small part of that generation. I am a devoted Potterhead, as you all know. I’m excited about reading them all and feeling the magic all over again.

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What’s it all about?

The novel begins with what appears to be a very normal and ordinary life on Privet Drive. Harry Potter lives with his Aunt and Uncle, Vernon and Petunia Dursley who has nothing but dislike for their nephew. Their son, Dudley has a favourite hobby: bullying Harry. Harry ends up there due to the death of his mother and father, ten years prior. The most interesting thing about him so far is his lightning bolt scar on his forehead. On the day of his eleventh birthday, he receives a letter from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Unbeknown to him, he has been accepted. Hagrid, the Gamekeeper, had to track down Harry in order to give him his letter after all the previous letters had been destroyed by the Dursleys. 

Hagrid tells Harry all about his past – who he is, his parents, James and Lily Potter, who were a wizard and witch respectively. Hagrid tells Harry about their death, about how they were murdered by the most evil and dark wizard of all time: Lord Voldemort. The only person to ever survive was him. Voldemort was unable to kill baby Harry. It was more than this though, he also lost all of his powers. As a result, in the magic world, Harry was famous. 

Harry is introduced to the wizarding world by visiting Diagon Alley with Hagrid. This is a hidden street in London where Harry will be able to buy all the things he needs for his new school. Harry, well aware that he has no money whatsoever, is also equally surprised to learn that at Gringotts Wizarding Bank, he has a fortune waiting for him from his parents. Hagrid gives Harry his birthday present, a beautiful snowy owl he decides to call Hedwig. Harry makes his way around Diagon Alley, buying everything he needs. He is shocked to learn that the wand that has chosen him has the same core as the one that gave him his scar. 

“I remember every wand I’ve ever sold, Mr. Potter. Every single wand. It so happens that the phoenix whose tail feather is in your wand, gave another feather–just one other. It is very curious indeed that you should be destined for this wand when its brother–why, its brother gave you that scar…Curious indeed how these things happen. The wand chooses the wizard, remember…”

The following month, Harry leaves the Durselys’ home to catch the Hogwarts Express from London’s King’s Cross railway station. However, there is just one thing that is a slight issue for him. He can’t find the platform he needs and no one around him seems to know what he is talking about. Where on earth is Platform 9¾? Eventually and thankfully he overhears a family discussing it. Thus, his friendship with Ron Weasley is formed. They also meet Hermione Granger on the train and almost instantly decide they don’t like her. She is snobby and a bit of a know it all. Harry also meets Draco Malfoy who dislikes Ron’s family because they aren’t well off and the children have hand me downs. 

When the students arrive at Hogwarts, the first thing the first years need to be do is to be assigned to a house. This is the Sorting Hat Ceremony, where the Sorting Hat decides which of the four houses to place new students in: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff or Slytherin. Slytherin has a dreadful reputation as being the house where good wizards have gone bad. Voldemort was in Slytherin and he was a dark and powerful wizard. Like his family before him, Malfoy ends up in Slytherin and the trio end up in Gryffindor. This wasn’t with some drama- the Sorting Hat was very conflicted and believed Harry could achieve great things in Slytherin. 

“Not Slytherin, eh?…Are you sure? You could be great, you know, it’s all here in your head, and Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that–no? Well, if you’re sure–better by GRYFFINDOR.”

As Harry settles into his new routine at Hogwarts, he learns what he is particularly good at: flying on a broom. He’s selected to play in Quidditch, a competitive wizards’ sport, as the Gryffindor Seeker. Yet, it isn’t all happy and joyous. The Potions master, Severus Snape, takes a natural disliking to him and makes a fool of him in lessons. Nevertheless, the trio continue to work hard, especially Hermione, who seems to know everything. 

One day, Malfoy tricks Harry and Ron into a duel in the trophy room in order to get them out of bed at night, thus breaking the rules. Malfoy tells Filch, the school’s caretaker that everyone hates, where they would be. Hermione unintentionally is forced to come along after her attempts to stop them, all fail. Neville Longbottom is asleep outside the common room because he’s forgotten the password. He too puts up some resistance but Harry and Ron manage to run out. Harry and Ron realise that Malfoy tried to trick them and decide they need to get back to the common room before they get into trouble. They discover a huge three headed dog standing guard over a trapdoor in the forbidden corridor. 

Halloween arrives and the school is busy celebrating. The celebrations are interrupted by the entrance of a troll in the school, which heads for the girls’ bathroom where Hermione was, after running away upset. Harry and Ron defy the order to return to their dorms and go after her. The three of them take on the troll and amazingly survive. From this, the trio become best friends. Bigger questions are raised about the dog and the trapdoor. To top things off, Snape seems to have a leg injury. Very odd indeed… 

Hermione, obsessed with their behaviour and the fear of being expelled, forbids the boys from investigating this further. She begs Harry to channel his efforts into his first ever Quidditch game. Without knowing how or why, Harry’s broom begins to act strangely and tries to repeatedly throw him off. Hermione notices that Snape is glaring at Harry and muttering something. Harry manages to swallow the Golden Snitch, meaning the game is over. 

“Now if you two don’t mind, I’m going to bed before either of you come up with another clever idea to get us killed – or worse, expelled.”

Christmas then comes and Harry receives an anonymous gift, an item of his father’s: an invisibility cloak. This has to be explored further! Harry takes off into the night to do some investigating regarding that trapdoor. On his travels, he discovers the Mirror of Erised. The strange item shows the deepest desires of the viewer. Harry sees his parents.

Following this, a newspaper report reveals that there was a break in at Gringotts. The trio head to see Hagrid to try and get some information. Hagrid didn’t mean to spill information however, the knowledge they gain is that there is a Philosopher’s Stone and it is currently being hidden at Hogwarts. The Philosopher’s Stone grants its user immortality as well as the ability to turn any metal into gold. During detention, Harry meets a centaur, Firenze, who tells him that Voldemort plans to steal the stone himself to restore his health and power. When the school headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, is lured away from the school, Harry, Ron and Hermione fear the worst: the theft is imminent. 

The trio decide they have to go through the trapdoor. Once below the school, they encounter a number of obstacles which require different skills. Each of them have what they need to work together. After a thrilling game of wizard’s chess, Harry is now alone with Quirinus Quirrell, the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. He reveals how he’s been working behind the scenes to try and kill Harry but was unsuccessful due to Snape’s interfering, much to Harry’s shock! 

Quirrell has been helping Voldemort, whose face has sprouted on the back of Quirrell’s head, to obtain the Philosopher’s Stone to restore his body. Quirrell needs to use Harry to get past the final obstacle: the Mirror of Erised. Quirrel forces Harry to stand in front of the mirror. The mirror recognises Harry’s lack of greed and places the stone in his pocket. Quirrell attempts to steal the stone and kill Harry but Harry manages to make contact with his skin. This burns Quirrell and breaks out into blisters. Harry’s scar burns and he passes out. 

Three days later, Harry wakes up in the school infirmary where Dumbledore explains his survival against Voldemort. It’s all down to his mother, Lily. Her love for him and the sacrifice she made that kept him alive means that he has a protective charm within his blood. It was this that made Quirrell’s skin burn as he is possessed with hatred and greed. The stone gets destroyed and the school year ends. Gryffindor win the House Cup and Harry, sadly, returns to Privet Drive. He fails to tell them that the use of spells is forbidden by under ages wizards and witches… roll on summer! 

“Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign…to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin.”

Final Thoughts

I can’t tell you how much I love Harry Potter. Like many millions of us, I was completely hooked. I was desperate to be a part of the world and secretly like to pretend I am. Reading it 23 years later, the magic is just as real, just as relevant today as it was then. I can’t wait to continue re-reading them again. It is different this time around, but it’s just as thrilling. It does also make me wonder if JK Rowling ever knew just what she was creating. I can’t remember another series of books taking over the world as much as this one did. And still does! 

I wish you all health and happiness. If you’re feeling lost, read something you love. It’s what I’m doing. 

Big love all. xx

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Filed under Book review, Books, Children's Literature, Harry Potter

The Boy In The Dress – RSC Production

“I think I might be different. I might not be the same.”

Hello lovely people!

Well the first two weeks in the new role has hit me like a brick in the face – that’s for sure. I hope everyone is having a lovely and positive start to January 2020.

I am hear today to tell you all about my evening at the RSC in Stratford – upon – Avon where I saw The Boy in the Dress.

You may remember back in April that I managed to bag myself a front row ticket, something I don’t think I’ve ever done before in my life. Therefore, I was VERY excited. Let’s get on with the review!

Plot

Back in April I did review the book written by David Walliams. You can read this here. In summary, the story follows a young boy called Dennis, who at 12 years old, is the schools star striker. However, when his mum leaves home, life isn’t all that great. The only reminder he has is a photograph of her in a yellow dress. A similar dress is also on the cover of Vogue magazine in Raj’s shop and Lisa James, the most beautiful girl in school, is sketching in her pad. How can the world of football and dresses collide? Especially when the mean headmaster, Mr Hawtrey, likes things to be very normal…

Cast

I always get myself a programme whenever I see anything and I’ve kept them all from any show I’ve ever seen. It’s just a bit of a routine to mooch through and see who I know in the cast. This was no exception. I saw faces and names that I knew and had seen them perform in other RSC shows. However, what was most excellent was seeing names from Matilda the Musical. Toby Mocrei played Bruce Bogtrotter in the production I saw and I was so thrilled to see him again as Dennis. He is an inspirational young chap indeed.

Also, the role of Dennis’s Father is played by none other than Rufus Hound who was excellent! His part was emotive, relatable and sensitive which struck a chord with the adults in the theatre.

I also really liked Asha Banks who played Lisa James. She has an incredible voice and because I was lucky enough to be at the front and her stage position was mainly in front of me, I could hear her most. That being said, her powerhouse voice filled the whole theatre. She played the part really exceptionally well.

One particular highlight is the casting of Oddbod the dog. I won’t spoil that for you but it really is genius! I’ve never seen a better dog in a theatre ever.

I could use the same superlatives for all the casting really. You can get more information regarding casting via the RSC website.

Staging

Like Matilda, the staging for The Boy In The Dress is full on! There’s doll houses, footballs, numerous disco balls and a variety of different back drops. Basically, the stage is constantly moving and changing. I took a picture at the start, during the interval and at the end, just to give you an idea.

Singing & Dancing

There are a number of quite complex dance numbers with up to twenty actors on stage at one time so I was really mesmerised and found myself wanting to join in. (I didn’t because that would have been embarrassing!)

The music team on this production has some big names: Robbie Williams, Guy Chambers and Chris Heath, to be exact. It’s easy to see why the songs are catchy and good fun.

There’s 19 songs to this musical, opening with Ordinary and closing with Disco Symphony. Some notable songs are Mr Hawtrey’s I Hate Children and Is There Anything More Beautiful Than Lisa James and If I Don’t Cry sang by Dennis and his father.

Overall

I left feeling positive, upbeat, singing the songs, wearing the t shirt from the shop and wanting to install a disco ball when I got home. I also booked tickets to see the show again. It’s just THAT good. So far in my life, I’ve only seen the same production of a show twice and that was Matilda. I just can’t wait to go back and see this all again.

Also, the fact that the novel has translated so well onto the stage is a real bonus. All the characters are included, the plot is the same. It’s just brought to life the whole book. The biggest thing for me is the joy of celebrating the fact that you can be different. Boys can wear dresses and play football. People are just people. This should always be championed and this show is the epitome of that.

View the trailer for the show here and book your ticket right now!

Big love all xx

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Filed under Children's Literature, Musicals, Play, RSC, Stratford upon Avon, Theatre Review, UK

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Turns 50!

Happy Bank Holiday Monday Everyone!

I hope you’re well and making the most of the long weekend. Today is a very special day in the book world because it is the 50th birthday of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. It has its own hash tag on Twitter and everything! (#VHC50 if you’re interested).

I saw this as the perfect opportunity to review this book and look at how important this book has been in so many peoples lives.

What’s it all about?

The book starts on one Sunday morning where a caterpillar hatched from an egg under the moon. He’s absolutely starving, ravenous for gorgeous food. Thus, the Very Hungry Caterpillar is born. He goes off to search for food.

‘One Sunday morning the warm sun came up and – pop! – out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar.

Over the course of five days, he eats increasing amounts of fruit. He starts on Monday with one apple, two pears on Tuesday, three plums on Wednesday, four strawberries on Thursday and five oranges on Friday.

On the Saturday, still hungry, he eats a ginormous amount of food! He eats one piece of chocolate cake, one ice cream cone, one pickle, on slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake and one slice of watermelon.

However, that night, he gets a pain in his tummy from eating so much. By the next morning, he feels much better after eating a luscious green leaf. By now, he’s neither hungry nor little. He’s a very big caterpillar who looks like he’s fit to burst.

The caterpillar spins himself a cocoon where he sleeps for two whole weeks. After this time as passed, he emerges from it as a beautiful butterfly, with large and colourful wings.

Then he nibbled a hole in the cocoon, pushed his way out and…

he was a beautiful butterfly!

Final thoughts

It is easy to see why this book has turned 50 years old. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t read it. However, what I find more meaningful than any age of a book, is where it goes next. Of course, this book has travelled through generations of readers. I read this book as a little girl and I still marvel in its wonder today as an adult. Reading this with smaller children in my own family is a joy as the legacy continues.

I was reading somewhere that apparently one of these books is sold, on average, every minute. The story and the illustrations have lived in many a home and continue to do so today. It’s been translated into over 60 languages with more than 46 million copies being sold. There is, of course, a new edition for the 50th birthday which features a rather lovely gold cover. Regardless, this story is just a wonderful, humble piece of writing that we’ve all loved, since our childhood. Happy birthday Very Hungry Caterpillar! 🎂 🎉

Enjoy the rest of the long weekend my dearest friends.

Big love xx

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Filed under Book review, Children's Literature, Reading

The Boy in the Dress – David Walliams

Hello Lovely People!

How are you all? I hope you’re well and enjoying the weekend peace you’ve hopefully been given.

Back at work for me now and exam season is fast approaching! With the pressures and strains of every day teaching life, it is so important to me that the weekends are all about relaxing and reading. Yesterday I went to the beautiful place of York and bought a number of amazing Harry Potter products from The Shop That Must Not Be Named. Then I spent some time in York Minster. However, one other little treat was that I’ve managed to get a front row seat to the RSC’s musical of The Boy in the Dress. I can not wait. There’s information about this here if you are interested. Matilda the musical was and still is awesome, so I expect the same from The Boy in the Dress. Therefore, it’s only fitting I review the first of David Walliams children’s books with you all today.

What’s it all about?

This life-affirming novel centres around 12 year old Dennis. He lives with his father and his older brother (14) John. Dennis loves football and watching Trisha on TV but has always felt a little different to his father and brother. Their mother left when Dennis was 7 following her divorce from his father. Their father, only known as Dad, reacts to the divorce by comfort eating which consequently results in him becoming quite large.

Dennis is a very contrasting character to his brother and father, who seem more alike. Despite being the best on the school football team, he desperately misses his mother. His father believed he burnt all the photos, but Dennis found one to keep. In that photo his mother is wearing a yellow dress which comforts him greatly. It’s the only way he can still see his mother.

One day, Dennis sees the same dress on the cover of a Vogue magazine. Dennis buys this magazine from Raj, the local shop owner. But when his father finds the copy of Vogue magazine, he is furious. His brother John starts to tease him, calling him “Denise”.

Are you sure you want this, Dennis?” asked Raj. “Vogue is mainly read by ladies, and your drama teacher Mr Howerd.

Things get worse for Dennis as he receives a detention at school the same day for kicking a football through a window. Something magical happens in detention because Dennis meets Lisa James. Lisa is the most amazing girl in school. She’s pretty and fashionable and popular. Lisa invites Dennis around to her house and shows him her drawing designs for different clothing. She persuades Dennis to dress up in girls’ clothing. After wearing an electric blue dress, Lisa convinces him to go out in public, under the alter ego of “Denise”, a French exchange student with limited English.

Their first stop is to Raj’s corner shop. Naturally, Dennis is worried that he will be recognised but amazingly, he isn’t! Raj completely believes that it is “Denise”. Because of their success here, Dennis is convinced to go to school with Lisa as “Denise”.

Rules don’t apply here,” laughed Lisa. “Dennis, you can be whoever you want to be!

The school day starts well and Dennis is unnoticed. However, Lisa forgot that she had a double French period. The sheer excitement from the French teacher means the narrative splits into French, not knowing that Dennis won’t understand a work. Rather than being found out, Denis accidentally upsets the teacher by criticising her accident. She is absolutely devastated.

Things go from bad to worse as during break time, a football is flying towards “Denise”, and naturally Dennis kicks it. Rather unfortunately, he slips and is revealed to be a boy. What feels like the whole school laughs at him. He’s sent to Mr Hawtrey, the headmaster, and is expelled from school for cross dressing.

His Dad is absolutely furious and sends Dennis to his room. Darvesh, Dennis’s best friend comes round to see Dennis, to tell him that they’re still best friends regardless, but is sent him again by his Dad.

No more watching that show Small England or whatever it’s called where those two idiots dress up as ‘laydees’. It’s a bad influence.

Darvesh’s actions mean so much to Dennis that he decided to attend a very important football match against Maudlin Street, at school on the Saturday. He’s not allowed to play and can see that the team are going to suffer an almighty defeat.

Lisa has a plan and the whole team encourage Dennis to play in a dress, which he does. With Dennis back on the team, it is complete again and they come back from being 6-0 down to actually win the final.

Dennis’s Dad has never attended a football match before, much to his sadness. This time was different. It wasn’t just Darvesh’s mum cheering and hollering from the sidelines, it was Dennis’s dad too.

The following Sunday morning upon visiting the corner shop again, Raj informs Dennis that Mr Hawtrey used to come and collect the Telegraph paper every Sunday at 7am. Although recently it has been his sister, Doris. What Raj found strange was that there was something peculiar about her.

Lisa and Dennis wake up ridiculously early to see what they could find out and as soon as the clock struck 7, Mr Hawtrey arrived at the shop dressed in a skirt and blouse! With this new knowledge, Lisa and Dennis threaten that unless Dennis is reinstated in school, they will tell everyone about Mr Hawtrey’s cross dressing. The next Monday Dennis is back in school, as normal.

By the end of the novel, Dennis, his Dad and his brother are able to talk about the wife and mother who left them. Dennis and Lisa remain the best of friends, as does Dennis and Darvesh. John even decides he needs to look out for his younger brother more. Harmony is restored.

Final thoughts

This book is everything you’d hope children’s books to be like. Honest, funny, understanding and accepting. We have all felt a time in our lives where we just feel like we don’t belong. The book is an anthem for that feeling and for the reality that that is actually ok. I really think this will be an awesome production too. Its cross dressing is actually a very Shakespearean element, meaning it will be right at home in Stratford upon Avon’s RSC theatre. Children’s books really lift the heart and Walliams has a way of making us all feel like we’re perfectly acceptable as we are. After all, we all belong whether we wear dresses and kick footballs or not.

“I think all those rules are boring. About what people can and can’t wear. Surely everyone should be able to wear whatever they like?

Big love all xx

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Filed under Book review, Children's Literature, RSC

The Boy at the Back of the Class – Onjali Q. Raúf

Happy April Everyone!

What a beautiful start to the year it has been. The spring flowers are much to be celebrated and the light nights are ever increasing. Today I want to share with you the absolute joy that is, The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Raúf. Not only is this one of the books of the month for April, but this book also won the overall prize for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2019. It’s current, relevant and an incredible read. I thought I’d take the photo in my garden with this little guy. The protagonist reminded me of him a bit. Look at his cute little face!

What’s it all about?

Told through the eyes of a group of friends, Tom, Josie and Michael, this novel is something we can all relate to in so many ways.

The story starts with an empty chair in a classroom following the absence of a student who had moved to Wales. A group of friends are naturally inquisitive and want to know why Mrs Sanders (the head of the school) and Mrs Khan (the teacher) are whispering at the front of the class. After a short amount of time, a young boy walks in behind Mrs Sanders. Ahmet became the focus of everyone’s attention. He looks very sad indeed.

‘I made a secret promise to myself right there and then that I would be friends with the new boy. I happened to have some lemon sherbets in my bag that morning and I thought I would try and give him one…’

Outside of lessons, Ahmet is nowhere to be found. After all, from the children’s point of view. it’s hard to make friends with someone when you rarely see them. However, one thing that is described so beautifully are his eyes. It’s the one thing that the character of Alexa (the story teller whose name we do not learn until the final chapter of the book) focuses on. The children wait until the end of the day and eventually they see him! They’re over the moon, but it doesn’t quite go as planned, despite having the lemon sherbets.

‘But the new boy grabbed her hand and hid his face behind her arm. I didn’t know what to do because I’ve never really scared anyone so much before that they wanted to hide from me.’

As days went by, the group of friends continually waited for Ahmet to give him gifts of sweets, chocolates and fruit. Over time, Ahmet started to make improvements with them. A smile here and a wink there. All signs he wanted to be their friends. After overhearing comments about how Ahmet is a ‘Refugee Kid’ the storyteller decides she doesn’t care and it really doesn’t matter. Finally, she gets a nod from Ahmet. A sign to her that it doesn’t matter that he’s a ‘Refugee Kid’.

‘I wish he had smiled back, because you can only ever know that a person’s really your friend when they like you enough to smile back. But it was OK because the nod felt like a promise, and I knew that I wouldn’t have to wait too long before the smile followed.’

What is beautiful in this novel is the storyteller clearly has an amazing mum. Working in the local library, books and knowledge centre their world. Naturally curious, the storyteller asks her mum questions about these children and their backgrounds. It all rings so true with the images we have all seen in the media. However, the child friendly language used makes it seem relatable by everyone; young and old.

Ahmet joining the class raises more questions than answers. Yet, the children are focused on being his friend and learning more about him. They had learnt that he was from Syria and had to flee from war. The storyteller and her mum decide to go off in search for pomegranate in the hopes that Ahmet would like this reminder from his home.

‘The new boy fell quiet. And then, for the first time since we met him, he smiled… a real, proper smile that went from one cheek to the other.’

One part of the novel that absolutely had my heart breaking was Ahmet telling his story, with pictures, to show the class what had happened and where he had come from. Story time is something so common in every classroom in the country. This one created a lump in my throat.

Ahmet tells his class all about his home in Syria, his mum and dad, as well as his sister and their cat. The war in Syria had led him to flee on a boat (like those seen on our television screens) to some form of safety. He went from Greece to the setting of the novel and his new school. To a new beginning. After telling his story hands shoot up around the classroom with yet more questions. The storyteller extends friendship further by offering her beloved Tintin comic to share together. We learn the truth about Ahmet’s family – his sister, mother, father and cat and why he is all alone.

‘I waited to see if Ahmet would show them the pictures and tell them about Syrah and the sea and his mum too. But, he didn’t, and I knew that he wanted me to keep it a secret.’

Then something happened that changed everything. Whilst travelling on the bus, the group overhear a conversation about the refugees. Again, it is a conversation we have all heard over time with some sympathetic views in comparison to the more judgemental views. Nevertheless, the children hear that the border is about to be shut, meaning Ahmet won’t see his family ever again. Despite telling their teachers, the group feel slightly fobbed off. It’s time to make a plan, or three, just to be on the safe side. These include writing to the Prime Minister or creating a Special Appeal. But, that wasn’t the greatest plan of all. The greatest plan in the world involved writing to our one and only Queen of England. They even create an emergency plan, just in case!

Time was plodding a long and the children were well aware about the discussion about the borders being closed. Therefore, it was time for them to work together and head for a London adventure! They had to help Ahmet and his family before it was too late. After navigating the trains and making their way around London, they need to get to the palace. They had presents for the Queen too! The first character they meet is Stan the Taxi driver. He’s a hit straight away!

Following Stan they then meet two Cold Stream Guards: Chris Taylor and Walter Kungu. After a mini adventure in itself, the guards promise to give another letter to the Queen and the presents they brought for the Queen too.

‘Getting into the back seat of the police car, we waved back. Lots of people began cheering and waving at us from all along the palace walls, so we waved back at them too, even though we didn’t really know why.’

As you can imagine, what came next was complete stardom. The children were in the news and causing a stir around the whole world! They even had a reply from the Queen. Finally, the children and Ahmet had some good news. Alexa also had her birthday. In fact, it is here that we finally learn her name! Her birthday was a complete surprise but the best gift wasn’t for her at all. It was for Ahmet, her best friend.

‘I know that afternoon was one of the best afternoons I will ever have. Not because it was my birthday, but because it was an end to one of the best adventures a brand new ten-year-old could ever have…’

Final thoughts

This book should be read by absolutely everyone. I mentioned throughout about comments we would have all heard in the media or even in our every day lives. However, this novel brings a voice to so many children and families who have been in this situation. It’s about friendship and kindness and the fact that we can always do more to help. The childlike innocence throughout is endearing and beautiful. This book is a deserving winner and an excellent read. It stands for something so much more than we ever could realise.

Big love all. Xxx

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Filed under Book review, Children's Literature, Waterstones Book of the Month

Matilda At 30 – Roald Dahl & Quentin Blake

Hey Everyone!

Welcome to October! The leaves are changing, it’s definitely getting colder and Autumn is fast upon us. What is perfect about this time of year is it’s the right time to get cosy on the sofa, in a chunky blanket with a book.

Before my Read The Year post for September, I wanted to share with you the news that Roald Dahl’s Matilda was published 30 years ago today. Happy birthday Matilda!!

I can’t believe it’s 30 years old – only two years older than me! It’s fascinating how it’s stood the test of time. That’s because it’s absolutely brilliant!! I have so much love for Matilda in my heart. The message that good will always conquer evil is one to remember, even when we feel most defeated. Also, the comfort and joy we can get from a good book cannot be understated. For Matilda, it’s all she has at some points in her life.

By pure coincidence, I’ve had a really Matilda orientated weekend. I went to Manchester to see the touring cast of Matilda the Musical. It was awesome! Just as amazing as when I went to see it in London. (see here for information!) I have a huge swell of pride about this as it started in my beloved Stratford upon Avon. It’s grown into this incredible production which is now being shared across England. Go and see it if you get chance, you won’t be disappointed!

To celebrate 30 years, Quentin Blake has released a number of drawings and illustrations which reimagine Matilda as an adult. Blake shows Matilda as a poet laureate, an astrophysicist, a special FX artist, a world traveller and the CEO of the British Library. I chose the latter cover to buy to mark this special occasion. Also, in my opinion, it’s the most likely career I think Matilda would have. Also, how beautiful is this cover?!

In true Quentin Blake style, the illustrations are just awesome. It’s so clever to be able to see the potential lives Matilda could have had. The opportunities are indeed endless. Regardless, it’s a beautiful book with the original story and illustrations within. What a relief this has been republished for the world to consider where the incredible little girl would be now.

So, happy birthday Matilda! I hope this novel continues to give hope to those who need it, shows that good will conquer evil and shares the love of learning. Matilda, you are a beauty.

Happy reading everyone!

Big love.

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Filed under Books, Children's Literature, New Books, Weekend Trips