HP & the cursed child

Have you read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child? Chances are – if you frequent book blogs – you have. I read it in two sittings and surprisingly, liked it very much! Surprising because it is a play and because most of my co-workers weren’t in love with it. I did not expect to rate it so highly.

Blurb: The Eighth Story. Nineteen Years Later.

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

cursed-child

As I said, I liked this one (far better than The Deathly Hallows to be honest). Albus grew on me as the story progressed. I saw him as the sullen, “unloved” teenager that we all have inside of us at some point. A phrase kept popping into my head as I read, that children who need our love the most show it in the most unloving ways. This was definitely true of Harry and Albus, who had great difficulty communicating and relating to each other.

One of the other things that I really liked is that The Cursed Child mirrored HP so perfectly without retelling the same story (ahem Star Wars). Revisiting the Tri-Wizard Tournament was fun without becoming repetitive and the most basic motivation of main character Albus was his love for best friend Scorpius (son of Draco Malfoy!) which has echoes of the relationships between Harry, Ron and Hermione.

The similarities between Albus and a young Harry are all the more striking because they are so different from one another. Albus is a Slytherin, has only one close friend and isn’t popular at all. Even his cousins and siblings aren’t close to him. But Harry, for all his popularity, was only close to Hermione and the Weasleys and both boys felt the pressure of being a spectacle to the masses. Each is uncomfortable in his own skin and wonders at the purity in his own heart.

The fact that The Cursed Child was written as a play didn’t take away from my experience. I was fine with that medium and my imagination completely filled in the gaps. Plays generally  have less writing per page than a regular book, so I breezed through the pages very quickly. This helped to create the illusion that the plot was super fast paced and made me feel accomplished. Everyone likes that feeling.

Not to delve too deeply into spoilers, but we do experience an alternate universe in which Voldemort is the ruler of the magical world and Harry Potter is dead. This period was described as hell on earth, but it was great fun to read about and I wish that it had lasted longer, or that we had even gotten to see Voldemort on-page, in this space. For all the talk of Voldemort returning, and the implied threat of evil creeping back into the world, we never really get to see it.

There is also an alternate reality where Ron and Hermione do not end up together. Instead, Ron is married to Padma (unhappily!) and Hermione is a bitter, mean Professor at Hogwarts instead of Minister for Magic. I did not like this reality at all. Ron and Hermione were both caricatures of themselves and this cheapened them a little. I also detest the implication that Hermione essentially turns into a harpy because she didn’t have Ron to love her.

There was one scene which I loved and have been waiting to read for more than a decade. It is between Harry and Dumbledore (through a portrait of the deceased Headmaster). And it reads a little something like this:

Dumbledore: I am no fit person to love … I have never loved without causing harm.

A Beat

Harry: You would have hurt me less if you had told me this then.

Dumbledore (openly weeping now): I was blind. That is what love does. I couldn’t see that you needed to hear that this closed-up, tricky, dangerous old man … loved you.

A pause. The two men are overcome with emotion.

Harry: It isn’t true that I never complained.

Dumbledore:  Harry, there is never a perfect answer in this messy, emotional world. Perfection is beyond the reach of humankind, beyond the reach of magic. In every shining moment of happiness is that drop of poison: the knowledge that pain will come again. Be honest to those you love, show your pain. To suffer is as human as to breathe.

Those that we love never truly leave us, Harry. There are things that death cannot touch. Paint … and memory … and love.

Overall, I enjoyed the Cursed Child and would love to see it made into a movie at some point. I would certainly read another book. The final drawback is my impression that the book overall was a little too young and the events too easy for someone my age. The play feels like it was written for youth today, instead of adults like me who grew up with Harry Potter. And while this would be fine, the main audience reading a play are adults, not young children or even teenagers. The events are tied up a little too neatly at the end. Although one character dies, his death brings little gravity to the story and is almost meaningless, because it fails even to bring Albus to an understanding of what his father grew up with, as The Boy Who Lived.

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xx

 

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Outside the Box by Jeannie Marshall

I have just finished reading an amazing book by local author Jeannie Marshall. It has been published under two titles so you might find it by looking for Outside the box: why our children need real food, not food products  or by searching The lost art of feeding kids: what Italy taught me about why children need real food.

I had read this book originally a few years ago and picked it up under the second title thinking the author had written another one. Well, a couple chapters in it was too familiar so I checked and it was exactly the same book! Fortunately it was so good that I decided to just keep going and will probably re-read it at least a couple more times in my lifetime. It is one of my favourite books and teaches you so much about food cultures and the art of looking at food as a whole, rather than just a compilation of different nutrients and vitamins to sustain the body.

Here is the blurb from goodreads:

When Canadian journalist Jeannie Marshall moved to Rome with her husband, she delighted in Italy’s famous culinary traditions. But when Marshall gave birth to a son, she began to see how that food culture was eroding, especially within young families. Like their North American counterparts, Italian children were eating sugary cereal in the morning and packaged, processed, salt- and fat-laden snacks later in the day. Busy Italian parents were rejecting local markets for supermercati, and introducing their toddlers to fast food restaurants only too happy to imprint their branding on the youngest of customers. So Marshall set on a quest to discover why something that we can only call “kid food” is proliferating around the world. How did we develop our seemingly insatiable desire for packaged foods that are virtually devoid of nutrition? How can even a mighty food culture like Italy’s change in just a generation? And why, when we should and often do know better, do we persist in filling our children’s lunch boxes, and young bodies, with ingredients that can scarcely even be considered food?

Through discussions with food crusaders such as Alice Waters, with chefs in Italy, nutritionists, fresh food vendors and parents from all over, and with big food companies such as PepsiCo and Nestle, Marshall gets behind the issues of our children’s failing nutrition and serves up a simple recipe for a return to real food.

—                    —

Marshall doesn’t come across as patronizing or elitist – something food writers and bloggers are often charged with. She doesn’t lecture you but instead inspires you to want something more for your family, and your community. She stresses the importance of societal norms in creating a food culture and its significance to overall health.

Having not grown up in a strong food culture the likes of which is common in Italy, the entire idea behind it was somewhat foreign to me but I love the idea and it is something that I desperately want to implement with my own family. I want my kids to grow up helping in the kitchen because through this they will develop cooking skills (from shopping and storage to preparing meals) as well as social skills, budgetary management skills, and will (hopefully!) associate good wholesome food with a fond, nostalgia for family and home that will carry the habit of healthy eating through the temptations of salty, fatty, sugary foods in adulthood.

The book begins with a short history of her childhood (which is to frame her experiences as an adult and make it easier for North Americans to relate to her) and how she and husband James arrived in Rome. The chunk of the book however follows her struggles as a mother to wade through all the BS and implement the healthiest choices for her son, from the introduction of first foods, to temper tantrums post-swimming lessons because little Nico wants a sugary treat from the vending machine … experiences any mother can relate to, regardless of where she lives.

Outside the Box is so much more than just a dietary ideal though. She talks about the role of advertising, particularly advertisements to children, and the subversive role they play in driving a wedge in between parents and children. Commercials and subtler ads, such as those in a television show, work on kids. Industry wouldn’t spend billions of dollars per year in America alone if they didn’t. And I can see it in the kids in my own life, how they beg, cajole and bargain to get a sweet or salty treat. To me, a treat like ice cream or McDonald’s should’t even be a once a week thing, never mind every day, or every trip to a store.

But you can’t raise your kids in isolation. Marshall uses examples such as these to explain why it is so important to have a societal food culture to raise kids in. If your child is the only one at swimming lessons to not get a treat from the vending machine, and you are the parent constantly saying no, it affects your relationship. If none of the kids get a treat, or if the vending machine isn’t there at all, it’s no big deal. Its normal.

Imagine a culture where everyone upholds a certain standard when it comes to food so that you can be sure that the food your child eats at school or his friends’ houses will be fresh and healthy rather than packaged. Advertising food products, particularly to children, subverts such a food culture.Though the culture supports healthy habits, marketing exploits your desires and weaknesses and encourages you to do what is bad for you. The traditional food culture incorporates opportunities to take pleasure in food with feast days for religious, seasonal or familial reasons. Marketing encourages self-indulgence, and when every day is special, nothing is special. Children have little defence against food marketers, and it doesn’t take long before these intruders define the culture to suit their needs.

Marshall, Jeanie. Outside the box. pg. 81

To me, protecting your children from food marketers is as important as teaching them not to accept candy from people in vans. Someone is coming into your home, through the computer or tv, and attempting to establish a relationship with your child, encouraging them to become consumers who enjoy a treat all the time. Children see commercials as factual and authoritative, according to the American Psychological Association; they can’t ignore or reflect critically on what is presented to them. And many companies go further, portraying parents as dumb old adults who don’t understand children or fun, rather than loving individuals who have to be the bad guys and make you eat broccoli instead of that cupcake because they care about your health.

One of the sections I was most interested in reading in Outside the Box was when Nico was a baby and Jeannie was introducing him to solid foods. In North America, it is still common to introduce foods one at a time in case the baby has a food allergy. In Italy, mothers make a pureed soup broth with veggies and a little rice or pasta for their baby. It incorporates the little into eating with their family unit, as they eat at the table at the same time as everyone else, and are introduced to a healthy and savoury combination of food that continues their introduction into the traditional food culture of their region.

outside the box

By the way, I read this book as a part of my 2016 Read Harder Challenge!

It was cool to see that Marshall offhandedly includes some traditional Italian recipes in her writing, ones that I am excited to try! I highly recommend this book. Try to find it at your local library or bookstore and give it a try if you have any interest in healthy living, cooking, food justice and sovereignty, or raising healthy children.

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xx

Read Harder Challenge 2016

Book Riot published their inaugural reading challenge in 2015 and released a new challenge for this year. They provide a list of 24 tasks, designed to help you read outside of your normal comfort zone. Looking through the list, I’d guess there are at least 5 categories that will feel “at home” to the average reader, but in others, you will definitely be stretching yourself.

Here is the link to the Book Riot challenge page. They provide lots of helpful tips for finding books to fit each category if you are struggling, and if you post about, use the hashtag #ReadHarder ! The printable pdf is on the link provided as well, but here is a quick snapshot of the current challenge.

ReadHarderChallenge2016_checklist-1

My co-workers and I are all participating (I work in a library, so we’re obviously all “book-y”) and I’ve been meaning to post about it on here for a while! I got a late start because I worked two jobs all winter and had no time for books. Don’t feel as if you are behind, come join me in the challenge!

I’ve only checked off a couple of categories so far. For a book under 100 pages, I used Saving for School by Gail Vax-Oxlade, which I already reviewed on this blog. And for the book that you read to another person, I used the Teddy Bears’ Picnic in my story-time program. I’m still working on the others, so when I review, I will try to remember to note that it was a part of this challenge! Hope this helps inspire you to read something new 🙂