Category Archives: Literature

Celebrate Banned Books Week

This week (September 30 – October 6) is designated as “Banned Books Week” by the American Library Association. While there is no official list of banned books, there is a list of commonly challenged books. The ALA tracks challenges to books and lists them, but libraries are not forced to remove any books from their shelves.

Join thousands of readers celebrating this week by reading a book or two from this list. To see a list of the commonly challenged books from the last twenty years, click here. Or if classics are more your style, there are plenty of challenged classics as well. See a list of challenged classics here. There some great books on both lists, and it is very likely you have read a number of books on the list already. Some of the most recent books added to the list includes Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Bridge to Terabithia. Some classic books on this list include: The Great Gatsby, The Catcher and the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, The Jungle, and Gone with the Wind.

In an effort to fight censorship and promote freedom, I encourage readers to read a book from this list that they are comfortable with. I find it disturbing that a few complaints can cause a library or store to remove a books from the shelves. Just because I do not like a book, or find it offensive, does not mean I want it removed from the shelves. Everyone has different preferences, and that should be respected. If you do not like a book, don’t read it. So, pick up a book from this list that you are comfortable with, after all, you have the freedom to read whatever you want.


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Pottermore (Beta): A Full Review

I have been in Pottermore now for a week and have worked my way through the first nine chapters of Philosopher’s (Sorcerer’s) Stone.  When I first heard that J. K. Rowling planned on doing Pottermore, I was unsure as to what a website could add to the books.  What I have found out, however, is that there is a lot to be added to the world of Harry Potter.  In this review, I will share screen captures, a review of the site/layout, and the experience itself.  I will not spoil any of the new information provided by Rowling or give a chapter-by-chapter run down of what you will experience.  That is for you to explore whether you are waiting for your Beta invite or the full release in October.

I will begin by saying that the website is very stable.  There was some concern as to whether or not the site was built with Adobe’s Flash technology, but it appears that Sony has chosen to go with HTML 5 or some variant.  Which means that Pottermore will work on tablets and phones without Flash.  In fact, Pottermore runs very smoothly on my iPhone!  There have been only a few occasions where the site has been down for maintenance, but that is to be expected since this is a Beta period.

In each chapter, the layout of the page remains the same.  The above image is from Chapter 9 and I will use this to explain the element on the page.  (1) This the the “main menu” for Pottermore from which you can jump to Diagon Alley, Gringotts, the Great Hall, or your Common Room.  There are also links to Spells, Potions, your Trunk, your Friends (you can link your account to Facebook), and pages that you add to your favorites along the way.  Along the top it also shows you how many House Points you have earned and how many your house has in total.  (2) This element presents all the information available in the chapter.  Character biographies, places, collected items, books, etc. are all located in this sidebar.  A little feather icon appears next to one of the menu elements if there is something new in this chapter.  (3) This is your navigation bar.  From here you can move forward to the next element, go back to the last element, or get a brief description of the chapter.  The layout of Pottermore is extremely user friendly and functional.

The adventure through the books begins at login.  After logging in with your chosen screen name, you are taken to a gateway (pictured above) which is outlined with the books and chapters.  This serves as your navigation tool through the site and the books.  From here you can continue through the book or jump to a previous chapter. This serves as the welcome page as you enter the website.

Although I said I would not spoil any of the experiences of Pottermore, I will highlight a few of the key experiences in the early chapters.  The first of which would be shopping in Diagon Alley.  Here you get to do many things including visit Gringotts to open your account (you are given 500 Galleons to begin with).  After you have opened your account, you must purchase the items on your shopping list.  This list is identical to the one Harry received in book one.  You visit each store individually and make your purchases, including your choice of pet.  The most important stop, however, is your last….choosing your wand.

Vising Ollivander’s is one of the most exciting parts of the trip to Diagon Alley.  Receiving (well paying for!) your wand is the first step to becoming a wizard.   You are asked a series of simple questions and a wand is chosen, or rather, a wand choses you!  Although this is a short and easy process, it is key to the story.

After visiting Ollivander’s, you board the Hogwarts Express and head to Hogwarts.  Upon entering the castle, you are taken to the sorting ceremony.  Before you are sorted, you are presented with a short video from Rowling explaining that this is the crucial point of the experience.  You will be a member of this house for the remainder of the books and there is no changing of houses.  You are asked a series of more complex questions and you are then added to a house.  I was sorted into Hufflepuff.  You are then taken to your Common Room and presented with an exclusive history of your house (only members of your house has access to this information from Rowling).

The Great Hall is the center for your information about Hogwarts.  Here you can find out how many points each house has, how many students are in each house, and how many students are enrolled at Hogwarts (currently there are approximately 360,000!).  What I have found interesting about this page is the equality in numbers between the houses.  One would think that the sorting hat ceremony could be easily swayed so that you could be in the house of your choice, but the numbers suggest otherwise.  In fact, the numbers are so equal (look closely at the picture above), that there is obviously some filter in place to ensure that one house does not have 20,000 more than another.  Right now the gap between the house with the most and least members is less than 1,000.  Seems almost too close to be going completely by your answers.

Throughout the chapters, the reader is presented with a great amount of information.  Character biographies, room descriptions, Rowling’s extras, etc. that there really is a lot to take in.  Rowling’s extras are the best part the chapters and include backstory on the Dursleys, background on the Hogwart’s Express, and the backstory of Professor McGonagall.  She also includes descriptions of all the woods and cores available to wand makers and their abilities.  Her additions to the story are very thorough and written in the same story as the books so that readers will feel right at home.

In addition to readings, there are hands on activities as well.  Casting spells and brewing potions are the two most challenging tasks on the site, in fact, they are damn near impossible to complete.  The site administrators have admitted there are some issues that they would like to address to make these tasks easier, but casting a spell should not require a complicated system using both the keyboard and the mouse.  Potions making should be detailed, and it works, until you get to a certain point and then I was stuck and ran out of time.

Despite these few issues, Pottermore is an exiting way to experience the world of Harry Potter.  This site will thrill fans both young and old and will provide years of entertainment.  It is important to note that what I am working with now is a Beta and may change before October, although I cannot image it would change much.  Rowling said at her press conference introducing the site that the goal of Pottermore was to bring Harry Potter to a new generation of readers by incorporating technology.  Pottermore hugely succeeds.

Keep up with the latest Pottermore news by visiting the Pottermore Insider.

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Pottermore Beta

The new welcome screen after logging in to the Pottermore

In case you missed the news, 1,000,000 lucky fans will get to beta test the new Pottermore website before it goes live in October.  Those at Pottermore have created a unique game they call “7 books, 7 days, 7 chances.”   Now through August 6, there will be a trivia question placed on the homepage of Pottermore.  The first day’s question is from book 1, the second days question is from book 2, and so on.  The answer to the question is a number.  Once you have the answer, add the number to the end of a the web address…  The magic quill is usually hidden somewhere on the page (this morning it was Warner Brother’s website for Deathly Hallows, Part 2), click on it.  You will be taken back to Pottermore and allowed to register.

You have to be lucky to find the question, however.  They post it at a random time during the day, so check back often.  There are only a limited number of spots per day and once filled, you have to wait until the next day (remember this is WORLD WIDE, not just in the US and Europe).  When you register, you are given a username and sent a conformation email to activate your account.  This does not give you instant access to Potter, however.  Invitations will be sent out to those participating in the beta in groups beginning next week.

This morning, I was lucky enough to get in!!  I checked the website before I left for work (6 AM ET) and the question was available.  I went through the process of registering and received my email about an hour later (due to the high demand).  By the time I got to work, about 10 minutes later, the question was gone and they had filled their quota.  It seems that there is only a window of a half hour to get in.  Will it get easier as the week goes on?  I doubt it! There are still a lot of people who have missed out on their chance to enter.  The Harry Potter series has a huge following around the world, and that makes getting one of the spots very competitive.

I will provide updates here (I have added “Potter” as a category) as I go through the experience.  I look forward to trying it out in the near future!

To find out more about entering the beta version of Pottermore, visit the Pottermore Insider.  Good Luck!

UPDATE: The Magic Quill contest has ended.  All the entries have been filled.

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Deathly Hallows Part 2 Hits $1 Billion Worldwide

Yesterday, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 become the top grossing Harry Potter film and is well on its way at breaking other records as well.  Death Hallows 2 already had a record opening weekend in the US, but with the release of the film in other countries, including China, a week away, the number is only going to climb.  Will Death Hallows 2 break Avatar’s record for highest grossing film of all time?

It seems appropriate that this happened the day before J. K. Rowling’s (and Harry Potter’s) birthday!

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Deathly Hallows Part 2 Shatters Records

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 was released last Friday, and, being the final movies of the series, it was expected to do well.  Since opening, it has made $168 Million domestically and $478 million worldwide.  The domestic total breaks the opening weekend record of $158 million set by The Dark Knight.  Will it break Avatar’s record of being the highest grossing movie of all time?  There is a great possibility.

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Tonight, at midnight, the final Harry Potter film will be released.  I am looking forward to seeing it. Here is a slideshow of all 21 promo posters:

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Pottermore Preview

As the world awaits the relsease of Pottermore, J. K. Rowling’s latest Harry Potter project, the Pottermore Twitter page has released three preview pictures from the new site.  What we can gather from the three images is that there will be a webpage for each chapter of each book offering additional information from J. K. Rowling and stunning artwork.  In case you missed them, here are the three images:

Preview 1: The welcome page for Chapter 6 of Sorcerer’s Stone.

Preview 2: A look inside Chapter 6 of Sorcerer’s Stone.

Preivew 3: A preview of exclusive new information from J. K. Rowling, also from Chapter 6 of Sorcerer’s Stone.

As we await the October release of Pottermore, one million people worldwide will get the opportunity to enter the BETA of Pottermore on July 31.  They should have no problem filling the spots!

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