Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson

Recently we had the opportunity to watch the live play adaptation of this book. I have also been meaning to write a review of the book (which we own) for awhile now. So I thought I would do a joint review of the book, the movie and the play. Hope you enjoy.

The Book

Rating 3.5 out of 5
Age Range: 4 - 8 years
Author: Julia Donaldosn
Illustrator: Axel Sheffler
Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Puffin; Reprint edition (August 25, 2003)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0142501123
ISBN-13: 978-0142501122

The witch and her cat are happily flying through the sky on a broomstick when the wind picks up and blows away the witch's hat, then her bow, and then her wand! Luckily, three helpful animals find the missing items, and all they want in return is a ride on the broom. But is there room on the broom for so many friends? And when disaster strikes, will they be able to save the witch from a hungry dragon?

I have a confession ,when we first got and read this book it bored both myself and my son. To be fair he was about two at the time, I suspect a little young for the age group (even though by two he loved books), but it just didn't grab us. I find my enjoyment of reading a book directly correlates to his enjoyment, if he isn't digging it then I probably wont. However after seeing the play I decided to revisit the book and I did enjoy it a lot more than previously.

There is lots of rhyming and lyrical passages which Donaldson does very well in the majority of her books; and the flow and rhythm of the book makes it easy to read aloud. I liked that unlike Tiddler: the story telling fish that there was a definite start, middle and end. The story flowed and made sense.

It seems the combination of Julia Donaldson and Axel Sheffler is one that is here to stay. As far as I can tell Mr Sheffler has illustrated all of Julia Donaldsons books (don't quote me on that but they have done a lot of books together). His slightly quirky style fits in with story and brings it alive. The images are a little darker in the colours that are used, the dark stormy skies, and the crows looming in most of the scenes.

It is nice to see a female lead in a Donaldson book. So far I have encountered mostly male characters in the lead roles in her books. It was  interesting to note (apparently on the authors request) that the witch was young and not a haggard old crone. As the illustrations are quite dark I think the decision to have the witch younger helps make it easier for kids to relate to.

I am glad we decided to revisit this book after seeing the play. When I brought the book over my son said "I saw this!" and he knew what was happening and pointed out when things happened such as saying "oh no the bow fell off"before I even read the passage. I can now see why this book has been as popular as The Gruffalo. I didn't find this book nearly as charming as The Gruffalo (review coming soon).

All in all a nice book to read that's most kids should enjoy.

The Play

Rating 5 out of 5
I was not sure what to expect from the play. I am not a big "arts" person and at the time I still didn't really like the book. But book adaptations are generally different and I assumed there would be differences to fill the hour the play ran for (otherwise it would have been a very short play). Mostly we decided to go because plays for children coming to my home town is quite rare.

The play had taken London by storm and was brought out this year to Australia. Currently (as of July 2013) touring Australia. It had a mixture of puppetry and live actors playing the main characters and telling the story. The play “storyline” did differ from the book in that from the outset the witch was looking for the dragon, not accidentally running into the witch eating dragon. Also they had written songs which were sung at pivotal points. The original story was woven into the extra songs and story dialogue.

The play has been adapted for Australian audiences which was an eye to detail I enjoyed. Right at the start when a swishing kind of noise could be heard an actor said "could it be a platypus?". The "aussie-fied" version was most noticeable during the Parrot's segment. They talked about the birds flying north to Bali and used phrases such as "strewth". I liked this touch.

This was not solely a “children’s play” with plenty of subtle adult humour to keep parents laughing just as hard as the little ones. Little ones may find the appearance of the dragon a little scary but to be honest I was disappointed the dragon character was a guy in a suit (where you could see the face) and not a puppet. I think it would have been an awesome puppet.

The set was simple with the focus being on the actors and the puppets. The puppets were detailed and colourful. The costumes of the Witch and cat actors was again simple but effective.

Australian cast: Stephen Anderson, Josie Cerise, Crystal Hegedis and Damien Warren-Smith
If you have the opportunity I would highly recommend seeing the play.

The Movie

Rating 3 out of 5
For Christmas 2012 BBC One released a Room on the Broom stop animation movie. With some big named actors voicing this movie such as Simon Pegg (Narrator), Gillian Anderson (the witch), and Timothy Spall (the dragon), Martin Clunes (as the dog) to name a few; it is a very well produced little movie.

The movie follows the book very closely. However unlike in the book the dragon "stalks" the witch and her friends throughout the movie. That is about the only noticeable difference to the book I could see.

One thing I realised while watching the movie is it is a darkish story. Especially when compared to the play. I wonder if this is why I didn't enjoy the book version? But otherwise a good little film that kids will enjoy. My son enjoyed watching it from beginning to end.

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