Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince directed by David Yates

Bibliographic Information: Yates, D. (director). (2009). Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (DVD). Burbank, CA: Warner Bros. Pictures.  ASIN: B002PMV9FG.  153 minutes, Movie Rating: PG.

Spoiler alert: This review may include information revealed in the Harry Potter films 1 through 5.

Plot Summary: Harry Potter, age 16, is in his sixth year at Hogwarts and things are changing rapidly.  The wizarding world finally recognizes what Harry has been saying for quite some time, that “he who must not be named,” the evil and very powerful wizard Lord Voldemort, is back and gaining strength.  Harry learns more from Professor Dumbledore about his mission to defeat Voldemort and has tasks to complete to move toward this goal.  New potions professor, Horace Slughorn, who has returned to Hogwarts from his retirement, has taken quite a liking to Harry.  Slughorn is impressed by people with name recognition, and Dumbledore and Harry hope to use Slughorn’s fondness of Harry to find out vital information about Voldemort from Slughorn.  Slughorn was a professor of Tom Riddle, Voldemort’s given name, when Riddle was a student at Hogwarts.  Dumbledore knows that a conversation in Slughorn’s memory holds some keys to important information about Voldemort that Harry needs.  In addition to these most atypical teenage activities, Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione are dealing with typical teenage events, specifically, schoolwork, friendships, and budding romance.

Critical Evaluation: It is a difficult task creating a movie from a much-loved and widely read book, but Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince lives up to its title.  The movie manages to be true to the book as much as possible, while taking advantage of the perfect medium to bring the story to life.  The acting is honest and convincing.  Those who have watched the five previous Harry Potter films will not be disappointed with this, the sixth, installment.  Harry, Ron, and Hermione are growing up, and it shows in the way they look and in the way they behave.  This movie is a bit darker than the previous one, but that is consistent with the book as well.  Highly entertaining, exciting, and adventurous, Harry Potter fans will not be disappointed with this sixth installment of the movie series.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was nominated for dozens of awards and won many of those nominations.  Among an Academy Award nomination, MTV Movie Awards, Teen Choice awards, and many others, one award stood out as particularly unique: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince won the Scream Awards’ “Holy Shit! Scene of the Year” for the “Death Eaters Attack London” Scene.

Reader’s/Viewer’s Annotation: Harry Potter and his friends are in their 6th year at Hogwarts School and amidst school work and budding romances, they must work to keep the school and the wizarding community safe from the Dark Lord, Voldemort

Information about the Author/Director:  David Yates is a British film director who directed the final four films in the eight film Harry Potter series.  His previous work included directing an independent film as well as several television programs.

He received wide recognition for his work on all of the Harry Potter films, with the final three films each winning British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Awards, in addition to many others.  Yates is currently working on an as yet untitled film based on the hit British television program Dr. Who.

Genres: Fantasy/Drama/Adventure

Curriculum Ties: comparison of the book and the movie

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 11 – 18

Challenge Issues:  There are those who claim the books and movies promote the occult and witchcraft.  In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.  Also, there are several positive reviews of the film, and it has won several awards and honors.

Why is this film included? The Harry Potter franchise is so huge and so popular, I felt I needed to include at least one film from the series in my blog.

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The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Bibliographic Information: Collins, S. (2008). The Hunger Games. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.  ISBN: 0439023483.  384 pages.

Plot Summary: Reality TV.  A competition.  A game.  Contestants fight for scarce resources, form alliances and betray each other, suffer harsh physical environments, confront situational challenges created by the people running the game.  But this is no ordinary reality TV show.  The stakes are much higher.  Win and you’re set for a life of comfort and wanting nothing.  Lose and you’re dead.  And so go the Hunger Games, which take place in the future in a country called Panem, a ruined land that was once North America.  “The Capital” of Panem is a place of excess and great power, as compared to the 12 districts, poor, isolated, and remote, under its control.  It is from these districts that the 24 contestants of the Hunger Games are randomly chosen, one boy and one girl from each district, chosen from all children ages 12 to 18.  When her beloved little sister, Prim’s, name is pulled out of the glass ball for district 12, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her place.  Volunteering is unusual, but not against the rules, so Katniss and her male counterpart, Peeta Mellark, a boy she knows from the town, are off to the capital to prepare for and participate in the games.  There can only be one winner.  How will Katniss play the game?  Will she make it out alive?

Critical Evaluation: The Hunger Games is at once gripping and disturbing, compelling and stark.  Collins manages to bring humanity to inhumane circumstances.  Relationships within the Hunger Games are naturally fraught with mistrust and uncertainty; Collins skillfully presents the complexities of these situations.  The book raises questions about what price is worth paying for survival and what price is worth paying for someone you love.  Collins has created in Katniss, a character with an unusual amount of depth and complexity, leaving readers relating to and empathizing with her one moment and wondering what she could possibly be thinking the next, but always, right there with her.  The book also presents a bleak look into a possible dystopian political, social and environmental future.  With ever-unfolding drama and danger, this is a book most readers will not be able to put down.  Not for the faint of heart, due to its weighty – and brutal – subject matter, The Hunger Games is crammed with topics for thought-provoking class or book club discussions.

Reader’s Annotation: When her beloved little sister, Prim, is chosen, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take Prim’s place in The Hunger Games.  The Games, run by the government, are a brutal competition, broadcast live throughout the country, where the winner of 24 contestants is the only one who comes out alive.

Information about the Author: Suzanne Collins started her writing career in children’s television.  She wrote for several children’s and preschool TV programs and then wrote the first book of a five book series called The Underland ChroniclesThe Underland Chronicles is described as a “fantasy/war series” on Collins’ website (www.suzannecollinsbooks.com).

The Hunger Games is the first of a trilogy and was published in 2008; the second book is Catching Fire and the third is Mockingjay.  The Hunger Games have won Collins great acclaim, selected honors include: YALSA 2009 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults, 2008 Publishers Weekly‘s Best Books of the Year, 2008 The New York Times Notable Children’s Book, School Library Journal‘s Best Books of 2008.

Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure, Fantasy

Subgenres/Themes: Science Fiction: Adventure, Dystopia; Adventure: Survival

Topics Covered: Poverty, Discrimination, Reality TV, Abuse of power, Hunger, Friendship, Love

Curriculum Ties: Social Science, Political Science, Environmental Science, Philosophy, Television Culture

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Imagine yourself in the Hunger Games: Paint a picture for listeners, using Collins’ words, of the scene and the challenge.  Ask, “what would you do?”

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 12-19 to Adult

Challenge Issues: The issue most likely to be challenged is violence, as the book contains many and varied acts of violence, but the violence is not gratuitous, it is a integral part of the plot.  Preparation for any challenge can include the librarian’s: reading of the book, adhering to the library’s collection development department, and possessing reviews of the book from well-regarded sources.  Additionally, The Hunger Games has received many honors, some are detailed above in “Information about the Author.”

Why is this book included? A young adult collection without The Hunger Games would by incomplete.  The Hunger Games is well-written, compelling and exciting, but there is more to it than that.  The Hunger Games has the potential to make its readers think and grapple and even debate with highly significant philosophical, ethical, political and societal issues.  There is a lot of substance packed into this one book.


Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Bibliographic Information: Collins, S. (2009). Catching Fire. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.  ISBN: 0439023491.  391 pages.

Spoiler alert: This review discloses the ending of The Hunger Games.

Plot Summary: In Catching Fire, the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark return home to district eight and begin an obligatory Victory Tour throughout the districts.  Katniss is still uncomfortable with, but getting used to, being the center of attention with her stylists and interviews and public appearances.  Katniss and Peeta’s survival of the Hunger Games makes them heroes with many in the outer districts, but Katniss’s manipulation of the games to end up with two victors leaves the capitol angry, and perhaps even vengeful.  When President Snow visits Katniss’s home in Victory Village, he makes it clear that the only way to assuage the capitol’s fury is to make sure all the people of Panem believe that Katniss is desperately in love with Peeta, thus explaining her defiance.  But, Katniss’s relationship with Peter is more complicated than ever and her best friend, and potential love interest, Gail does not help matters, as he seems to be distancing himself from her more and more.  And there are rumors that Katniss and Peeta’s Hunger Games performance has sparked talk of rebellion in the districts.  She survived the Hunger Games, can she survive this next chapter of her life, filled with uncertainty and, just as in the games, the constant fear of punishment by the capitol.

Critical Evaluation: Catching Fire was a much-anticipated follow up to the New York Times Bestseller and hugely popular The Hunger Games.  Though Catching Fire contained many of the most compelling and inspiring characters of The Hunger Games, and it was an interesting story, it did not quite measure up in excitement and suspense to its predecessor; though it is still a worthy read.  Admittedly, it would have been a difficult task for Collins to write book two of the trilogy with the same level of energy and tension as the first.  Catching Fire satisfies the reader’s need to find out what happens next, as Katniss and Peeta return to District Eight and begin their lives as “victors.”  Catching Fire is by no means slow moving, though the pace is more subdued, in parts, than the pace of The Hunger Games, probably due to the fact that much of Catching Fire takes place outside of the arena.  Collins introduces, in Catching Fire, additional – and intriguing – plot twists, and readers’ understandings of the main characters deepen.  There is still plenty of action and adventure and excitement, and The Hunger Games fans will need to read Catching Fire, so that they can then go on to read the final book in the trilogy: Mockingjay.   Critics were mixed about Catching Fire, and, while it did receive many positive reviews, there were others less complimentary.  Also, Catching Fire’s list of honors is significantly shorter than The Hunger Games’, but they include: Time Magazine’s #4 top fiction book of 2009, People Magazine’s #8 Best Book of 2009, and Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Book of the Year for 2009.

Reader’s Annotation: When Katniss and Peeta return home after their Hunger Games victory, more awaits them than they expect.

Information about the Author: Suzanne Collins started her writing career in children’s television.  She wrote for several children’s and preschool TV programs and then wrote the first book of a five book series called The Underland ChroniclesThe Underland Chronicles is described as a “fantasy/war series” on Collins’ website (www.suzannecollinsbooks.com).

Catching Fire is the second in the Hunger Games trilogy, The Hunger Games is the first and the third is Mockingjay.

Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure, Fantasy

Subgenres/Themes: Science Fiction: Adventure, Dystopia; Adventure: Survival

Topics Covered: Poverty, Discrimination, Reality TV, Abuse of power, Hunger, Friendship, Love

Curriculum Ties: Social Science, Political Science, Environmental Science, Philosophy, Television Culture

Booktalking Ideas:

  • How would you go about proving that you are passionately and deeply in love with someone when this is not true?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 12-19 to Adult

Challenge Issues: The issue most likely to be challenged is violence, as the book contains many and varied acts of violence, but the violence is not gratuitous, it is a integral part of the plot.  Preparation for any challenge can include the librarian’s: reading of the book, adhering to the library’s collection development department, and possessing reviews of the book from well-regarded sources.

Why is this book included? As a sequel to The Hunger Games, I had to read Catching Fire to find out what happened next.  I expect other readers of The Hunger Games will feel the same way, so the entire Hunger Games trilogy deserves a place in a quality young adult collection.


Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Bibliographic Information: Doctorow, C. (2010). Little Brother. New York, NY: Tor Teen.  ISBN: 0765323117.  416 pages.

Plot Summary: When teen techno genius Marcus gets a message that the Harajuku Fun Madness game has a new clue available, he is not going to let a little thing like school get in the way of his fun.  And, it’s only right that his friends go to downtown San Francisco with him.  But what starts out as an afternoon ditching school becomes six days Marcus will never forget, when a terrorist plot blows up the Bay Bridge, leaving residents and law enforcement officers on high alert.  When homeland security teams swoop in to prevent any more terrorist destruction, they take Marcus and his friends into custody.  Marcus questions Homeland Security’s methods when he learns all that is happening in the name of protecting the city and its people.  Marcus, always a bit of a rebel, takes on those who would limit freedom and invade privacy for ostensible security, using his technological prowess, online connections with other hackers, and pure chutzpah.  Can one teenager really make a difference?

Critical Evaluation: Exciting, gripping, and immensely entertaining, Little Brother has cross-genre appeal.  Part science fiction, mystery, and adventure, part realistic fiction, dystopian novel and techno-thriller, this book has much to offer to many different readers.  The heavy use of technology within the plot, but just a bit more than we have access to now, gives the novel an “in the not too distant future” feel.  The book is relatively long, but maintains reader interest by being action packed and fairly fast paced.  From a lonely prison cell to a large-scale demonstration in a public park, readers take a fantastic ride with Marcus, portrayed by Doctorow as a complex character with depth.  Like many teens, his friends are of central importance to him, he falls in love, and he doesn’t tell his parents much about what is going on with him, but in other ways Marcus is quite unique.  He spends much of his free time living in a virtual world of hackers where nobody knows his real name.  Marcus doesn’t always follow the rules, and he is very adept at avoiding being caught, for example, he puts small pebbles in his shoes to throw off the school’s gait recognition software that would be able to identify him as he sneaks out during school hours.  Details like these bring the reader into the story and into the life of Marcus, who, for all his mischief, is shown to be intelligent, creative and a good person who cares about the people and world around him.  Doctorow’s opinions about freedom of speech and privacy online, he is NOT a fan of the PATRIOT ACT, for example, are obvious in the novel, but his treatment of the characters who express opposing views is not completely unsympathetic.  A New York Times Best Seller, Little Brother has won several awards and honors, for example, 2009 VOYA Science Fiction for Young Adults/Golden Duck Award, School Library Journal’s Best Books 2008, and the 2009 White Pine Award (According to Wikipedia, “The White Pine Award is an annual literature award sponsored by the Ontario Library Association (OLA) that has awarded Canadian young adult books since 2002.”).

Reader’s Annotation: What starts out as an afternoon ditching school becomes six days Marcus will never forget, when a terrorist plot blows up the Bay Bridge.  Marcus and his friends must stand up to the powers that be, who seem to value perceived security over freedom.

Information about the Author: Information about Cory Doctorow from the blog Boing Boing (http://boingboing.net/), of which Doctorow is an editor, “Cory is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger.”  Doctorow’s activism surrounds issues of free speech and privacy in online environments.   Doctorow, “has been named one of the Web’s twenty-five “influencers” by Forbes Magazine and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum,” (http://us.macmillan.com/author/corydoctorow).  Cory Doctorow was born in Canada and currently lives in London.

Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Realistic Fiction

SubGenres/Themes: Science Fiction: Adventure, Dystopia; Adventure: Espionage and Terrorism; Techno-Thriller

Topics Covered: Freedom of Speech, Internet Privacy, Online Privacy, Love, Sexuality, Friendship, Activism,

Curriculum Ties: The US Constitution, The US Bill of Rights, Government, Internet Privacy

Booktalking Ideas:

  • What if every where you went someone was trying to get you?  And this wasn’t paranoia?
  • How much freedom would you give up for safety?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 14-17

Challenge Issues: Anti-government sentiment, sexual activity, illegal activities.  In response to any challenges, there are several positive reviews of the book, and it has won several awards and honors, three are mentioned above.

Why is this book included? Originally included as part of class readings, Little Brother adds genre diversity to a collection. Little Brother is also an exciting, entertaining, and though-provoking read.