Saturday, 16 November 2013

Film adaptation: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the third installation in the Harry Potter series. It is Harry's third year at Hogwarts and the wizarding world is in uproar over the escape of highly dangerous criminal, Sirius Black, from the maximum security prison, Azkaban. This book is where we are first introduced to the Dementors, the guards of Azkaban, that suck out all the happiness from their victims.

The film adaptation of Prisoner of Azkaban was directed by Alfonso Cuarón and his mark on the film is unmistakeable. The first two Harry Potter films had a dream-like, magical quality to them. Cuarón's Harry Potter universe is dark, dangerous and foreboding. It was truly a foreshadowing of the things to come. In terms of the film series, I felt that this third film set the tone for the rest of the series which got progressively darker and more serious.

One of the things I really enjoy about the Harry Potter films is that the casting is almost always spot-on. Prisoner of Azkaban is no different. Although I mourned the loss of Richard Harris (he will forever be Dumbledore in my mind) and did not really like Michael Gambon's Dumbledore at first (he eventually grew on me), I felt that Sirius Black and Remus Lupin were perfectly cast. Gary Oldman really captured the grave yet slightly unhinged demeanour of Sirius Black while David Thewlis's gentle and nurturing Remus Lupin was how I imagined him to be when reading the book.

I loved the book and the film did not disappoint. Hands down, Prisoner of Azkaban is my favourite Harry Potter book AND film. Definitely a must-watch. 5 out of 5 stars!

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Writers: J.K. Rowling (novel), Steve Kloves (screenplay)

Year of release: 2004

NA's rating: 5/5

The Blue Lotus

The Blue Lotus is the fifth volume in The Adventures of Tintin series. It follows Tintin and Snowy on their adventure in China where they team up with the Sons of Dragons to combat opium smuggling. There, he uncovers a nefarious plan by film director Rastapopoulos.

After having received criticism of depicting racist stereotypes in his previous works, 
Hergé carried out extensive research on China with the help of a Chinese student, Chang, while writing The Blue Lotus. There is a conversation in the book between Tintin and the Chinese orphan, Chang, where they each share their stereotyped impressions/beliefs about each other's culture and have a good laugh at how ridiculous it was. Perhaps Hergé should have done some research on Japan too, as the Japanese character, Mitsuhirato, did come across as being a rather negative stereotype of Japanese people.

The book opens with an introduction to the main characters. I found this useful as I embarrassingly have not read any other books in the Tintin series. There is some background information on the the author's real-life inspiration at the end of the book. This is interesting and enhances the reader's understanding of, and appreciation for the story.

This is a fun read with language suitable for young readers. However, it is possible that some parents would not appreciate the depiction of opium smoking and opium dens. Buyer beware!

I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Author: Hergé

Published in 2013 by Egmont UK Ltd.

Age range: 9 to 12 years old

NA's rating: 4/5


Persepolis is an autobiographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi. Written from a child's (her younger self's) perspective, it tells the story of her childhood with revolutionary Iran as the backdrop. We learn about the many changes and upheavals that take place in Iran during that time and how these affected her and her family.

The illustrations are minimal and almost child-like. Yet, these belie the highly nuanced story that is being told. The way the story is told makes it very relatable. I personally found it very interesting as I knew little about Iran's revolutionary history before reading this book. This may be an interesting book to discuss in a class that is learning world history. However, I would recommend this for older teens as there is some foul language used.

Overall, a great read. I give it 5 out of 5 stars.

Author and illustrator: Marjane Satrapi
Published in 2003 by Pantheon Books
Originally published in French. A film adaptation (animated) was released in 2007.

Age range: 16 years old and above

NA's rating: 5/5

Friday, 15 November 2013

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars is the story of Hazel and Augustus, two teenagers with cancer. It is a story about love and cancer but it is neither a love story nor a cancer story. It is much more than that; it is a story about hope and the human spirit.

John Green is a master at writing characters who are real and believable.  His protagonist is a teenaged girl with cancer and he is a man who has never been a teenaged girl or had cancer. Yet, Hazel feels real and not at all made up. His stories show great insight into the human condition. The themes explored, the interactions between characters and the emotions they feel are very relatable.

This is a wonderful read and I highly recommend it to anyone, not just teenagers. There are some "love scenes" so it would be more suitable for readers aged 16 and older. Keep the tissues handy. I give it 5 out of 5 stars.



Author: John Green
Published in 2012 by Dutton Books

Age range: 16 years and older

NA's rating: 5/5

Lola and the Boy Next Door

Lola and the Boy Next Door is a coming of age story for girls. As the title states, it is about Lola's relationship with the boy next door. It is also about her journey in learning to accept herself as she is. Lola is a colourful and flamboyant character who comes across as someone who doesn't feel pressured to fit in. However, as the story progresses, it becomes clear that she too suffers from the insecurities that are common during adolescence (and life).

Stephanie Perkins has a writing style that is natural and highly readable. However, I found it difficult to get behind the story's protagonist. She came across as being very self-centred and lacking self-awareness. The writing is good but the characters are not particularly sympathetic, with the exception of the long-suffering Cricket who has the patience of a saint.

This book will likely appeal to teenaged girls. It may also appeal to teenagers who are different/not mainstream as it champions being unique and true to yourself. Its themes of love and romance as well as the "love scenes" make it more suitable for older teenagers. I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Author: Stephanie Perkins
Published in 2011 by Dutton Books

Age range: 16 years and older

NA's rating: 3.5/5

The Twits

The Twits is the story of horrible people who did horrible things and how they got their just desserts. It's a classic underdog tale, where the victims rise up to teach the bullies a lesson they will never forget.

The chapters are short, about 1 or 2 pages long, and the language used is simple and easy to understand. The book can therefore be used as a bridge to take young readers from picture books to chapter books.

The illustrations are wonderful and depict the expressions and actions of Mr and Mrs Twit very well. For me, Quentin Blake's illustrations are the definitive illustrations for Roald Dahl's works. I own a copy of James and the Giant Peach that features another illustrator's illustrations and the reading experience was not the same. It somehow did not feel as satisfying.

This is another one of my all-time favourites so again, I shall have to give it 5 out of 5 stars.

Author: Roald Dahl
Illustrator: Quentin Blake
First published in 1980 by Jonathan Cape Ltd

Age range: 7 to 10 years old

NA's rating: 5/5

Fortunately, the Milk...

Fortunately, the Milk... is the unexpected adventure of a father who steps out to buy some milk. He meets all sorts of characters: pirates, vampires, angry volcano gods, aliens and a really cool dinosaur.

The story is fast-paced and compels you to keep turning the pages till you reach the end. There's action on almost every page and the illustrations just jump out of the page (even though the copy I have is not in colour). The characters are larger than life. All these elements combined make the story feel so alive and vibrant. It's great for reading aloud to your child, though I wouldn't recommend it as a bedtime story. Your kids will probably be bouncing off the walls instead of settling down to sleep.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and found myself reading certain parts aloud. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars!

Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrator: Chris Riddell
First published in 2013 by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Age range: 7 to 9 years old

NA's rating: 4.5/5