Ten Children’s Novels That Would Make Good Movies
Recently Maud Newton had a piece up on the IFC website called List: Ten Novels and Short Stories That Would Make Good Movies. A good list. Gives a woman ideas, it does. I’ve done this kind of thing before but it’s out of date. After some tinkering here is my own list of Ten Children’s Novels That Would Make Good Movies (And Aren’t Being Made Already).
I Had Trouble in Getting to Salla Sollew by Dr. Seuss – They want to keep turning Dr. Seuss into full-length motion picture events? Fine. Do it with this one then. My husband is a huge proponent of this particular Seussian creation and to hear him tell it, it’s a picaresque narrative. A kind of Bildungsroman of a tale where the hero ultimately fails in his main endeavor (i.e. getting to Solla Sollew "Where they never have troubles! At least, very few.") but decides to meet his troubles head-on at the end because he is stronger for the journey. And owns a really big bat. The adventures he goes through naturally lend themselves to the kind of padding a full-length motion picture needs. More importantly, Seuss could get a bit didactic in his moralizing. The Lorax and The Butter Battle Book are so glaringly obvious in their lessons that they don’t really lend themselves to rereading. Other books like Yertle the Turtle and I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew, on the other hand, are cleverer in delivering what they want to teach. Subtle even. It may not be the best known Seussian work, but if ever a picture book deserved a movie adaptation, this one does.*
The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer – Sort of my number one go-to film idea. Until they announced that Will Smith’s kids would be starring in the movie version of Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet I was of the opinion that Hollywood wasn’t interested in putting African-American kids in their own action films. As such, I thought that Farmer’s book would be the perfect place to start. First off, it takes place in the future and Hollywood loves futuristic thrillers. Then you get into everything from evil masks to plastic mines and three mutant men who are detectives… now THAT is what I call a movie, people. I swear, if it ever actually gets made I’m gonna have a heart attack or something.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum – And we do it straight. None of this the scarecrow is a guy with a lobotomy or Dorothy’s all tarted up and wearing bondage gear. I don’t want any singing or dancing either. Basically I’m looking at something along the lines of Return to Oz but with better special effects (claymation fans, forgive me). And the book has tons of adventures in it, so I don’t think you’ll need to add much in the way of padding. Nor would you necessarily have to keep the characters looking like William Wallace Denslow creations (in fact, I’d prefer that you didn’t) but don’t get too creative with them. If the Tin Man looked like a man who happened to be made out of tin, that would be neat. And a real looking lion ala Aslan in the Narnia films? Better and better.
Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbringer by Laini Taylor – Here’s how I envision it. You get a kick ass actress. One that can do judo and smirk at the same time. Someone like Ellen Page (she’s got range, right?). Then you decide if you wanna go CGI or live-action or crazy kooky animation with wires and pegs and stuff. I opt for the third category. Better yet, utilize some of the kooky animators out there that never make it into major productions. Ooo! Or hire Michel Gondry and have HIM do it! Yeah yeah, I like that plan. Then you get a really good screenwriter and voila! The very first wonderful fairy movie ever made for kids. Weird that we don’t have one yet.
Kiki Strike by Kirsten Miller – The only author I get fan mail in my in-box for because of an interview I conducted with her more than a year ago. This is one of those books that works fine in a literary setting but might be even better visually. I think of girls-go-out-and-spy and what do I think of? D.E.B.S. Ugh. So let us consider making a movie for tween girls, starring tween girls, and doesn’t involve them wearing short skirts, shall we? Or indulging in bad movie banter. I know, I know. I’m probably asking too much with that latter requirement. Fine, if you make the film you can fill it to the brim with banter. Just show girls doing something other than teaming up with boys in an action movie and I’ll never complain again.
The Arrival by Shaun Tan – Hear me out. Shaun Tan already has connections to the cinematic world, right? I mean he did do some work for Pixar’s Wall-E after all. So all you have to do is give him full creative control and then maybe hire someone like Miyazaki to pair with him. Tan could keep the plot intact, Miyazaki could lend his own unique touch, and voila! Instant classic. Extra points if the film makes me cry as often as the book does. Then again, perhaps you’d rather not make all the characters in this book into anime big-eyed monstrosities. In such a case as that, what about Sylvain Chomet who did The Triplets of Belleville? Or just scrap everything and let Tan have ultimate control over animation as well. It could be a silent film too, with just music and nonsense language (which would ultimately complement the book better than anything else).
Monster Blood Tattoo by D.M. Cornish – Admittedly, I’m a touch confused as to why it hasn’t yet made it into theaters. I guess there’s always the "let the fans build naturally" theory to books like these, but I’m essentially impatient. A Monster Blood Tattoo film promises big-budget fantastical glory. But we don’t want another Golden Compass on our hands, so you need a good director. One who isn’t afraid of showing the landscape of this book. The land of the Half-Continent literally has a personality of its own. So I’m going to say that you get someone like Ang Lee to direct. That means that the special effects will have to be limited to the monsters, and even then I want them to be goooood monsters. Monsters along the lines of the hippogriff in the third Harry Potter film and NOT the werewolf from the same. I want grit, and plaque on their teeth, and I want you to be able to smell their fur. They’re dark books so I envision a dark palette with lots of black drippy things and the like. Only Europe should have any color, not just in her clothing but in the food she eats as well. And Angelina Jolie, you are not allowed to play Europe. You either Kidman. Let’s get some new blood on the silver screen. No, Scarlett Johansson, I don’t want you either. Someone cool. Think on it.
The Phoenix and the Carpet by E. Nesbit – Couldn’t be simpler. You cut out the cannibals. You slap a restraining order on anyone and everyone involved in that atrocity that dared to call itself Five Children and It. Which is not necessarily to say that Eddie Izzard shouldn’t be involved. But he’s been doing the voice of Reepicheep in the Narnia films lately and we don’t want to confuse the kiddies. Besides, the Phoenix should be played by a snarky actor. Someone refined and ultimately contemptuous. Jason Isaacs, perhaps. Yes… yes I like that. The screenplay would take some finagling, but I’m sure you could do good things with it without having to add in a greedy antiques dealer or evil zoologist or something (which you simply know they will want to do).
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin & A Drowned Maiden’s Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz – Sheesh. Ain’t I typical? I go through this whole post talking about fantasy this and fantasy that. Then I finally get to the end and realize that I’ve done the exact same thing Hollywood always does. I’ve ignored the realistic fiction. The general unspoken rule with children’s books turned into films these days is that if you can’t employ the CGI artists in some manner then don’t even bother making the film. Hence Because of Winn-Dixie gets to be made but only if they can CGI in a dog’s smile. Bridge to Terabithia does computer generated flights of fancy. And I never saw How to Eat Fried Worms but if the reviews are anything to go by ("including… cardboard characters and several incidents in which people scream and run around for no apparent reason, except possibly to keep the audience from dozing off") maybe it could have stood some. Holes is an exception to this rule… except even in that case I’m pretty sure the yellow lizards were digital.
Well, it that’s how they’re going to play the game so be it. But let me remind you that the two books I have here, The Westing Game and A Drowned Maiden’s Hair, could just as easily be done as someone’s graduate thesis over at NYU and no one would be any the wiser. Now apparently The Westing Game was already turned into a film in this 1997 clunker shown here.
Oogie. We’re going to make the wild conclusion here that it might not have been the pinnacle of great filmmaking and instead wonder what would happen if it were turned into a film. A good film. One that danced between the different characters and situations in a fun way, not a crazy slapstick Dunston Checks In kind of way. Class it up a bit. Get good child actors and great adult actors. And play up the scary parts too, like when Turtle is dared to go into the haunted house. If you play up the scariness and mystery of the film (Guillermo del Toro can direct, if you like) and I guarantee you’ll have a hit on your hands.
The same goes for A Drowned Maiden’s Hair. Have you seen this beautiful new paperback cover, by the way?
I’ve selected two realistic fiction titles that rely on mystery and Gothic elements, and that’s not a mistake. The advantages inherit in Drowned Maiden dwell in the casting. Get a great Maud, yes yes. But there are wonderful parts in this adaptation for THREE (count ’em) THREE older women actresses (not even counting Muffet or Mrs. Lambert). If Miranda Richardson were older I’d peg her for Hyacinth but you’d have to age her at least another 20 years and we haven’t time. There are other possibilities, though. It would be a pretty cool twist if you could get Dame Judy Dench (who could mix just the right levels of charm and evil into her performance). Can you imagine being a child and having Judy Dench rip your heart out of your chest by laughing at you? That’s a movie right there. Plus you have the whole ghostly aspects and since the cast is almost entirely women it would be quite the film to see. Which, of course, means it will never get made. But a girl can dream, can’t she?
And now, for your amusement, I present you with a brief look at a couple covers of The Westing Game that I had never seen prior to searching for one for this piece:
Other films I considered adding as well: Half Magic, The Girl With the Silver Eyes, and so on and such.
* Actually I was just talking to my husband about other Seuss tales and boy does he have some great theories. Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are, Happy Birthday to You, and I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew are basically The Book of Job in picture book form. And you know that "later season" Dr. Seuss title You’re Only Old Once!? Basically it’s the children’s book equivalent of golf comic strips. Which is to say, the kind of fare that only appeals to aging adult readers and writers.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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