A children’s Harry Potter birthday party

My son just turned nine (wut) and had requested a Harry Potter party. Our house is very small with no discernable yard — and it’s winter here — so we decided on a “movie” pyjama party, based on my misguided theory that kids in their PJs would be less likely to run around shouting.

Needless to say, very little movie-watching took place. But fun was had regardless. I thought since it was a book-related party I’d share my experience here, in case it is of benefit to others.

(Note: Check the run time of the movie before you start. I forgot quite how long Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone actually runs — we didn’t quite make it through the movie before the other parents came to collect their kids. It wasn’t a big deal, though, given how little time was spent in front of the TV.)

The Food

Our budget didn’t stretch to actual Harry Potter brand food, especially since I’d have had to order it in from the UK, so I made do. We bought lolly snakes, chocolate frogs and other snacks, but then I gave them a Harry Potter theme by labelling each bowl with Honeydukes-inspired labels. (This also meant I could flag the contents of each for those kids with dietary requirements.)

For example, the snakes became “Basilisk Bites” and our Jelly Belly jellybeans were “Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans”. My son and I got around the fact they weren’t every flavour by faking it, which the other adults got in on. “Oh, gross, I just got a soap-flavoured one!”

The “Cake”

My son doesn’t like icing (I know, right?) so we decided to do homemade muffins in house-coloured cupcake wrappers instead. I googled “butterscotch muffins”, thinking I’d claim they were butterbeer, and ended up using this recipe from taste.com.au. I found it was a little dry, so added a little extra buttermilk, and because we didn’t use the caramel sauce due to my fear of sticky pre-teens, I added a splash of maple syrup as well. I’m not a baker, generally, so I was pleased at how nicely they turned out.

The one Potter-ish food thing I did order was the cupcake toppers, which were super-easy to apply. I did have to add a very thin layer of icing sugar (with a splash of boiling water to make a paste), just to get the toppers to stick, but I got away with it. 😉

Wizarding Accessories

Wands

Far and away the most time-consuming (but satisfying) part of the party prep was making the wands. My talented friend Craig and I spent hours on these, though the materials themselves were quite cheap: a packet of wooden chopsticks, a glue gun and a packet of beads. Craig already owned the paint, which would’ve been a huge extra expense if I’d had to get it myself.

Each kid got to chose a wand — there were six children and twelve wands, so I get the spares! — and I’d done up a card for each one with a core and wood based on this page, so they all had unique “powers”. The kids spent the vast majority of the party dividing into tribes and flinging curses at each other. It was a little Lord of the Flies, not gonna lie, but they had fun.

Photos, detail work and amazing talent by Craig. Dribbly “organic” wands by me.

Wizard Hats

I painted the party hats black and then used my glue gun to stick stars all over them. Quick and easy!

Party hat graciously modelled by Professor McGonagall

The Games

Sorting Hat

All the kids who came knew their Hogwarts houses in advance (because we’re those sorts of people), but I’d downloaded and printed a couple of origami “sorting hats” from this site, which got quite a bit of use.

Pass the Parseltongue

This was regular pass the parcel, but with toy snakes, lizards and frogs in each layer.

Stick the Sock on the Dobby

I drew Dobby onto a sheet of A3 cardboard and then made socks for the kids to stick on him with sticky tac. I had prizes for those that got their sock into his hand and for the funniest placement (which ended up being an earring).

Musical Statues

As well as pausing the music, I used my wand to cast the charm “immobulus” (the freezing charm). It was a bit of a juggle managing both, so I had to get the other parents to judge who was out each round.

Other Games

I had organised a few other party games that we didn’t get to because the kids wanted to get back to flinging curses.

  • A “Celebrity Head” style game — I had a plain black party hat and some stickers that I was going to write Potter character names on so each child could have a turn at guessing who they were.
  • Memorise the spell — Starting with a “base spell” word, each kid has to repeat what has been said previously and then add a new word to the spell, going around in a circle, so that you end up with a string of gibberish.
  • Transfiguration class — I found a packet of animal noses and was going to get each child to cast a spell on themselves to “transform” and draw a nose from a bag.

The Prizes

Again, I didn’t have a huge budget for prizes, so I went for theme rather than brand. As well as the parseltongue lizards etc, I found a cheap pack of dragons at the local two dollar shop. I stuck some googley eyes on pompoms and called them pygmy puffs. I bought a grey Ikea rat to be Scabbers, and a little while owl to be Hedwig.

I had more prizes than we actually needed, so I divided up what was left into the party bags at the end. (Except for Scabbers. He lives with me now.)

Conclusion

All in all, everyone had fun — including me, as the whole thing appealed to my inner Ravenclaw. My boy has already told me he wants a Doctor Who party next year, which I think will be trickier.

For now, I’ll be over here, collapsed in a pile of wizarding robes and left-over lollies.

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Review: ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ by Jack Thorne

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child_cover

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.

Gosh, so many mixed feelings, you guys. I don’t normally review books this close to their release date, so I’ll be super-careful to avoid spoilers.

I think ultimately how much fans of the series will love or loathe The Cursed Child will depend on the extend to which the nostalgia of catching up with beloved characters outweighs the flaws in the story. Because we do get to see pretty much all the major characters from the series at one point or another — particularly Harry, Ginny, Hermione and Draco. (I was never a massive fan of Ron, but I still didn’t really like the way he was portrayed in the script — even though he did get some amusing lines.)

The absolute best thing about The Cursed Child is the delightful Scorpio Malfoy, who at Hogwarts becomes friends with Albus, Harry’s second son. Scorpio is optimistic, friendly and funny, and this book is worth reading just for him. I wanted to cuddle him and bake him pie.

I … wasn’t as enthusiastic about Albus, who is the sullenest teenager that ever sullened. To be fair to him, he is bullied horrifically by his Hogwarts peers after failing to live up to their expectations. But he still isn’t much fun to be around, and I wanted to see more of the relationship between him and his parents, because, honestly, I didn’t get it. (Also, his older brother, James, is mentioned in passing and then never seen again. Like, if he were also at Hogwarts, surely he’d stick up for his brother? I don’t know, maybe I missed something.)

Albus’s familial relationships weren’t the only case where I wanted more than I got from The Cursed Child. Despite the size of the book, it is a light read. In case it wasn’t clear from the blurb, it’s a script for a play. That means the action is thinly described and not very satisfying (the big fight scene was basically a one-liner). The dialogue, by necessity, needs to tell a lot of the action, which means that the “show, don’t tell” rule of good novel writing is often ignored.

The dialogue itself is closer to real speech than a novel’s typical dialogue, which omits a lot of the “ums” and verbal meandering that people do. The end result is that the play can be quite trying to read at times; I quite often had to re-read larger blocks of speech to get a sense for what the character was saying, because their dialogue was so choppy. (As an aside, the number of misused commas I saw was rather depressing. Given how much the publisher must have made from this release, surely they could have afforded a copy editor?)

Finally, the plot was — for me, at least — entirely predictable and had a few plot holes that left me confused, and one ridiculous moment that made me shake my head. On the upside, it also had a few touching moments.

If I saw The Cursed Child as a play rather than reading it, the stylistic flaws would have been less obvious. The fight scenes would be acted out, the dialogue would seem more natural to the ear, and the commas wouldn’t offend. Maybe Albus would have been more sympathetic too, though I’m not so sure about that. If it’s ever produced in Australia I’ll definitely check it out, but I can’t see myself re-reading the script the same way I would the original novels.

I wavered between three and four stars for The Cursed Child, because I did enjoy it despite its flaws. Maybe I’m more sappy and sentimental than I thought.

CursedChildHarrySirius

Three-and-a-half stars


What Hogwarts Houses Are My Characters?

Sorting Hat

I was asked on Facebook what Hogwarts Houses my characters would be; apparently this was a thing authors were doing back in 2014, and we all know how cutting edge I am! I’ve been chewing over the idea, because—like Harry, who could have just as easily been Slytherin as Gryffindor—most of my characters could fit into more than one house. Still, I’ve donned the Sorting Hat and done my best!

Isla’s Inheritance trilogy

Isla has elements of Hufflepuff and Gryffindor, and could easily go into either house. However, when we first meet her, she is definitely a Hufflepuff, so that’s where she would’ve been sorted when she started high school. Her loyalty in particular drives her to do some very courageous things, but she’s still more comfortable not charging into danger, given the choice.

Like Isla, Jack has elements of Gryffindor (his chivalry and courage, in particular). However, he is a Hufflepuff through and through. Patience and loyalty are two of his defining characteristics, and his desire for justice has gotten him into trouble in the past.

Sarah is a Gryffindor. Although she is musical, which could have qualified her for Ravenclaw, she is the most honest, determined and forthright of the characters in the trilogy. This causes Sarah to butt heads with Isla at times, when she gets frustrated with her cousin’s reluctance to be as honest as she probably should be.

Lucid Dreaming

Of these five characters, Melaina is the hardest for me to sort. She has traits valued by three of the four houses (she’d make a pretty poor Hufflepuff, all things considered). Still, I’d sort her into Gryffindor, given her tendency to leap into situations and think about the consequences later.

Brad is a Ravenclaw. He’s an educated, intellectual sort of person who is very good at thinking his way through a problem or puzzle to find a solution. That is why he struggles at first, when presented with information that doesn’t fit neatly into his worldview. But once he understands the new “rules” of Melaina’s world, he is able to think his way through them.

Are you a writer? Have you ever sorted your characters? It’s a fun little mental exercise that gets you to think about who they really are, beneath it all. (And special thanks to Belle for suggesting it.)


Notebook_coffeeIn case you missed it, on Thursday I was over at Aussie Owned and Read, talking about finding time in a busy life: time to write, blog, review and do the squillion other things I try to get done.

What I really need is a Time Turner…