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Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Best Children’s Book to Screen Combos

For those families who love the 1-2 combo of a great book and a screen version that brings those characters and plot to life, here is a list of some of the best adaptations available.

These are the criteria for making this list:

1) Are both the book and TV/film versions well-liked and well-received by audiences?

2) Do the TV/film versions stay true to the source material?   

3) What is the reaction of the original book author to the adaptation?

These criteria eliminate several combos even though their books to screen combos are both excellent. For example, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs succeeded as an action-packed funny movie but it deviated greatly from the original story outside of both being about port towns that are overwhelmed by food falling from the sky.  The film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a cult classic but was never thought of by author Roald Dahl as a faithful adaptation of his Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Luckily, throughout the years there have been some book and film versions that get it right. Here are some of those. Check the links to request the books and films to pick up at your local Fresno County library branch. 

Where the Wild Things Are (Book 1963 & Film 2009)

Yes, yes while the film version doesn’t fit all the criteria written above, it does succeed in a big way- it gained Maurice Sendak’s approval and finds ways to keep the spirit of this extremely short picture book while expanding it into a feature live-action film. The film uses both practical costumes and digital effect faces to create The Wild Things.  The studio thought the live-action film version was too dark, which is interesting because when the picture book Where the Wild Things Are was published in 1963 it was attacked for being too scary for children. 

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Book 1957 & TV Movie 1966)

Yes, there are multiple versions of this picture book story but the 1966 TV holiday short takes the cake. Originally, Dr. Seuss didn’t want to turn any of his stories into an animated version, but Chuck Jones, creator of the Looney Tunes, successfully talked him into letting him turn his Christmas tale into a TV short. The TV short is only 26 minutes long and outside of adding some songs (written by Dr. Seuss), stays very close to the original story. Famous scary movie actor Boris Karloff narrates the story while Thurl Ravenscroft (famous for voicing Tony the Tiger) sings the famous tune "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch".

Paddington (Book 1958 & Film 2014)

Paddington, the story of a bear from Peru discovered at a train station, has been popular in the UK since first coming into existence in 1958. The film does a great job of staying true to the character.  Author Michael Bond was nervous about doing a live-action version of his character but saw some test footage and gave his blessing. He even has a cameo in the film. 

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Book 1950 & Film 2005)

The early 2000s was a great period for fantasy adaptations with the Lord of the Rings paving the way. Disney looked for its own big fantasy book series to adapt to film. C. S. Lewis, a friend, and colleague of J. R. R. Tolkien had his own fantasy series that could make for an exciting family-friendly film in The Chronicles of Narnia. The first book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe had great success. The film had fantastic visual effects that allowed viewers to fully enjoy C. S. Lewis’s world of Narnia. The visual effects of Aslan the lion were extremely well-down for the time. C. S. Lewis passed away in 1963, before the latest film adaptation. However, he did see some early TV versions of his story which he was unhappy with due to the inability of the filmmakers to create realistic-looking versions of his non-human characters. The Lewis estate agreed to sell the film rights when they saw some test visual effects for the story. Sadly, the next two novel adaptations of the book series were not as successful as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  

James and the Giant Peach (Book 1961 & Film 1996)

Author Roaldnald Dahl doubted this story could ever be made into a viable film. Henry Selick created the 1996 adaptation by using both live-action shots and stop-motion.  The story is about a young orphan who escapes his evil aunts by flying across the ocean in a giant peach. James discovers he isn’t the only passenger as various friendly bugs have also become giant-sized and join James on his adventure.  

A Little Princess (Book 1905 & Film 1995)

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel, A Little Princess, has been adapted multiple times for television or the big screen. This includes a version starring Shirley Temple. However, the 1995 film version by talented director Alfonso Cuaron is currently the most well-known. Set during World War I, the story focuses on a young girl sent to a boarding school in New York City. When her rich father is believed to have been killed in battle she is relegated to a life of servitude at the boarding school. While some creative differences are made, the film is well done with gorgeous art direction and magical quality.

Harry Potter Series (Books 1997-2007 & Films 2001-2011)

While not a perfect adaptation the Harry Potter films stay true to the books. Some fans will gripe over the frequent question of the color of Harry Potter’s eyes to his mother’s.  In the books, they both have green eyes, but actor Daniel Radcliffe’s eyes are blue. This doesn’t seem like a big deal but many characters point out how similar their eyes are. Other fans will notice Hermione is given some of Ron’s best lines in the books.  Nevertheless, the film adaptations closely follow the books’ plotlines with author JK Rowling working closely with the filmmakers.  Other middle-grade fantasy books written during this time did not get as faithful film adaptations- looking at you Percy Jackson, Artemis Fowl, and His Dark Materials series.

Babe, the Gallant Pig (Book 1983 & Film 1995)

People might not know that the 1995 film “Babe” is based on a children’s book. Part of that reason may be due to the different titles- in the UK the book is known as Sheep-Pig and in the USA as Babe: The Gallant Pig. With the use of computer graphics, Jim Henson puppetry, and trained animal performers, the film brings Dick King-Smith’s gentle fable of a polite little pig that learns to herd sheep to life. “That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.”

--By Mr. Eric