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Katie Allison Granju is the married mother of five children, ranging in age from toddler to teenager. In addition to blogging for Babble Voices, she also publishes her own blog, Big Good Thing, and she works full time in digital media with a large cable network. When she isn't at work, blogging, or washing someone's socks, Katie enjoys working in her flower garden, riding her bike, and feeding the chickens she keeps in the backyard of her family's large and totally impractical, 113-year-old Victorian house.

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PART I: The Very Best Movie Adaptations of Books for Kids and Teens

By Katie Allison Granju |

The Gene Wilder movie version is THE BEST adaptation of the Roald Dahl children's book.

Sometime in the next week or two, I’ll definitely be taking my four year old daughter to see the new movie version of The Lorax. By that time, I am sure the critics will have already weighed in with their thumbs up or down reviews of this latest Seuss adaptation, but I will hold off on reading the reviews until I see the movie for myself.

I want to make my own determination as to whether the new Lorax movie lives up to the fanfare around its release, and I’m really hoping that it does because in years past, some of my very favorite movies have sprung directly out of the pages of books originally written for children or teens.

A big thanks to Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax for sponsoring this campaign.  Click here to see more of the discussion.

From the earliest days of the movie industry, children’s and YA literature has been a fertile garden from which filmmakers can pluck story ideas, plots and characters, and that remains the case today. With so much material from which to choose, it’s inevitable that some of the movies adaptations that make it to the screen will be terrific, while others, well, not so much.

For the moment, however, I want to focus on the movies in this genre that really work well – sometimes even better than the books on which they were based,  So without further ado – and in no particular order -  here are my personal picks for the best of the best among movie adaptations of books written for children and teens.

 

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PART I: The Very Best Movie Adaptations of Books for Kids and Teens

Charlotte's Web -Movie Adaptation 1973

This 1973 Hanna Barbera animated adaptation of the 1957 EB White story is today every bit the classic that the book itself remains. The two media - book and movie - serve as perfect compliments to one another, which isn't surprising, since Mr. White offered extensive input into the creation of the movie. Plus, with amazing performances by Paul Lynde as Templeton the Rat, Debbie Reynolds as Charlotte, Agnes Moorehead as the cranky Goose, and Danny Bonaduce (!!!) as Avery Arable, this movie is acted as well the book is written.

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Which of my picks do you love? Which do you hate? Which great adaptations of books for kids and teens did I leave off my list but that should be there? Talk about great movie adaptations from books for kids and teens in the comments below.

And also, in addition to sharing your comments, please consider clicking the Facebook “Like” button at the top of this blog post to share with others. Or if Facebook’s not your thing, you could show my post a little love by  giving a quick tap on the Twitter or “Pin It” Pinterest buttons that also located right up top of the post. Much obliged! – kag

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PART II: In which I weigh in with the very WORST film adaptations of books for kids and teens.

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About Katie Allison Granju

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Katie Allison Granju

Katie Allison Granju is the married mother of five children, ranging in age from toddler to teenager. In addition to blogging for Babble Voices, she also publishes her own blog, Big Good Thing. Katie also enjoys working in her flower garden, riding her bike, and feeding the chickens she keeps in the backyard of her family's large Victorian house. Read bio and latest posts → Read Katie Allison's latest posts →

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37 thoughts on “PART I: The Very Best Movie Adaptations of Books for Kids and Teens

  1. Leslie says:

    I love Willy Wonka. The original is way better than the Johnny Depp remake. But I disagree about The Princess Diaries. Maybe it was a good movie, but it’s so different from the book. I don’t like adaptations that change the book for no apparent reason, for example killing off Mia’s dad. Little House on the Prairie was good to begin with but jumped the shark somewhere around the time that Mary went blind and they added Albert. Michael Landon was always crying about something. Babies were burning in fires. Girls were getting raped by circus clowns. Laura Ingalls Wilder was spinning in her grave.

    And I don’t plan to see the Lorax. Didn’t see the Grinch or the Cat in the Hat either. I just don’t want those versions in my head blotting out Dr. Seuss’s original genius!

  2. Not Quite Miss Rumphius says:

    Hello Katie,

    Hope you are feeling better. I wanted to add another great children’s book / great movie to your list and that is Hugo (as in The Invention of Hugo Cabret.)

    I’m a children’s librarian here in Toronto and recently blogged about the movie and the book. The link, if you’re interested, is:

    http://torontopubliclibrary.typepad.com/north-york-central-blog/2012/02/the-re-invention-of-hugo-cabret-a-good-book-becomes-surprise-a-good-movie.html

    By the way, I also really loved Bridge to Terabithia, both the book and the movie.

    Take care,
    Not Quite Miss Rumphius

  3. Jenny says:

    I am 39 and I love 10 Things I Hate About You. There, I said it. Also, being 39, I love Clueless and Gene Wilder Willy Wonka.

  4. marisa says:

    it depends on your kid, don’t you think? my son could not tolerate the loud noise in movie theaters…and after a while I stopped wasting my money…his favorite movie from his childhood (and mine as well, btw…) was Treasure Planet, followed by Brother Bear. He loved Shreck, got seriously angry at me when I put Lion King in the VCR (Ma, WHY did you put this on???) We saw Toy Story 1 and 2 on VCR (he liked 2 better than 1, which was scary for him); but a year or two ago, we watched Toy Story 3 in the theatres (I guess his sensitivity to sound wasn’t as overwhelming by that point)… *That* movie made me cry…and my son kept checking in on me…as in “ma, you OK? ma?? you ok???” As a young boy he loved Jungle Book, and at his father’s funeral, I let him pick the music…he picked ” I Want to Be Like You” from Jungle Book…so now, every time I hear that song, or think of it, it makes me cry…

  5. Tricia says:

    I’d add the movie Holes based on the book by Louis Sachar. My son read it in third grade, one of the first older books he’d read, and then after reading it the wonderful Ms. Crowe had a movie party after school so the kids could watch it. Some pretty adult themes for third graders, but they loved it. And a couple of years we’re still watching it. I also loved the Lemony Snickett movie. There’s only one, which combines the first three books. I’m sorry they didn’t continue the movie series. It was very well done. And October Sky — a great book and a great movie.

  6. Barb says:

    I’d definitely add Holes, as a previous poster mentioned. Great movie and great book. I’d also add the Harry Potter movies and books.

  7. Barb says:

    The movie adapted from Hoot by Carl Hiaasen was also good. It’s a nice family friendly movie.

  8. Katie Allison Granju says:

    Tricia – you are SO RIGHT! I can believe I forgot Holes. Good book but a GREAT movie.

  9. jzzy55 says:

    My son also could not tolerate the sensory load in movie theaters until he was about eight years old. I wonder about the wisdom of taking infants and toddlers to the movies. it’s awfully loud and kind of a scary environment for very little ones.

    I second Holes as a faithful movie adaptation that can fully stand on its own merits even if you haven’t read the book (though I advise reading the book). Compare to Hoot, which was rather lame as a movie but a pretty good YA novel.

    I have issues with stories in which bespectacled curly haired girls get turned into spec-free ironed hair prom queens (or princesses). Being a bespectacled curly head.

    Loved the 1973 Charlotte’s Web and Babe the Pig. My son and I watched both together many times. BTW the actor who plays Farmer Hoggett in Babe is also in this year’s Oscar for Best Picture, The Artist.

    What about Freaky Friday? Both book and movie are lots of fun. I recently read parts of FF aloud to my special ed group (6th graders) and the girls loved it. The boys loved it too — they just wouldn’t say so. But I could tell because they were quiet and listening.

    And what about Narnia, Harry Potter, the Golden Compass, and Lord of the Rings? I think they are all pretty good adaptations, though no substitute for the books in any of those cases.

    There’s also Gone with the Wind. There was a time when every book-loving teenage girl had her “GWTW” summer — usually around age 14. Both book and movie are monumental, if dated. Some parental input on racism and poetic license could be in order for GWTW.

    On that same note, Tin-tin is a wonderful series EXCEPT (big except) for its ghastly 1930s Belgian treatment of Africans and anyone of African heritage. The movie skirted this by simply not using any of the Tin-tin books with African characters or settings. My son adored all of the Tin-tin books (as did his father in his day) but we had to have discussions about the blatant racism and colonialist sentiments (remember that Belgium had a nasty conflict with its colony, the Congo). It also glorifies destruction of wildlife habitats and brutal treatment of African animals. Even the author regretted his first edition of the book! This topic is so inflammatory that it has its own lengthy Wikipedia entry.
    What’s interesting about Tin-tin is that the author was respectful and admiring of many non-European cultures…except African.

    Anyhoo, I hope this blog post kept you busy and not thinking about your hospital stay.

  10. Monika says:

    Well, you’ve left off all the brilliant work done by Kevin Sullivan adapting Lucy Maude Montgomery’s work to tv — Anne of Green Gables, the Road to Avonlea, Emily of New Moon, and Wind at My Back.

    I’d also add Hugo Cabret; my 8 year old got the book for Christmas, and both the book and movie are equally amazing.

    My 5 year old adores the Curious George series, which is better than the books. Madeline was often better than the original books too, as is the Little Bear series which introduces classical music as part of the storytelling (lovely and soothing). And I loved the animated Tintin series.

    The Black Stallion was stunning… Last night we watched Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes, which is one of my daughter’s favourites. She also adores Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Heidi (the version from the ’90s), and Matilda. The Swedish tv version of Pipi Longstocking is also very popular in our house.

    Others my kids love: The Tale of Despereaux, A Little Princess (it’s better than The Secret Garden), Les Trois Brigands by Tomi Ungerer, Azur et Asmar.

    We have only 2 tv channels, so we watch dvds instead…

  11. Monika says:

    One more…

    My favourite novel of all-time is Pride and Prejudice, and so I’ve made a study of the different film and tv serial versions which have been produced. The first I saw is by far the best — the 1979 BBC version. I fell in love with it as a teenager, and still love it today. The screenplay is brilliant! Unfortunately, the screenplay of the 1997 version is just awful in comparison. The movie with Keira Knightley is actually quite good, and tries to illuminate the original draft of the novel, which was set quite a bit earlier than the final version (hence, the movie did not feature empire-waist dresses, for example). The worst is the film with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier — just awful!

    Oh — and my favourite movie adaption as a 13 year old was definitely Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. We read the play in English class, and then our teacher showed us the movie. It will never be surpassed (sorry, didn’t care for Baz Luhrmann’s version). And had the biggest crush on Leonard Whiting…

  12. jzzy55 says:

    We were taken to see Zeffirelli’s R&J as a school field trip when it played in NYC in 1968. Good times! Dah-dah-dah-dah, dah-dah-dah-DAH….(A Time for Us)

  13. Betsy (not the sister) says:

    Bridge to Terabithia!

    Can’t wait for the Hunger Games!!!

  14. Amelia says:

    I’d add holes as well. I loved that movie and book.

  15. clarisdoyle says:

    Did you watch the “Extreme Couponing” show they should have featured Printapons which I use and print coupons from online

  16. geri a says:

    I was in 6th grade when zeffrelli’s Romeo and Juliet came out. was obsessed, i say obsessed with it. the nun in our school even let me and my best friend go listen to the album of it that I had in the library! started my love affair with shakespeare :)

  17. jzzy55 says:

    Geri, the nuns must not have known about the (semi?) nudity! or maybe they were just very cool nuns! Jzzy

  18. harriet says:

    The 1994 “Little Women” was awful. It made the characters even more stuffy and unbearable than they were in the book.

  19. A.K. says:

    I have to comment on Zefferelli’s R and J. I showed it in a private Christian school, and I quelled the “semi-nudity” problem rather easily: “There is a scene with a butt and a boob. We all have seen them, and God created them. So there is no need to feel embarrassment over this quick flash.” My students just grinned, but they fully understood what I meant, and my mentioning it right up front took out the sudden shock value that would have spawned a voracious giggles and laughter.

    As for films: Harry Potter 3: The Prisoner of Azkaban is particularly good for an adaptation. It does have scary images in it, of course, so it may not be a good film for young children.

  20. Christina says:

    I loved Little House when I was a child, both the books and the TV series. Pa was the absolute best! But, I would actually be hesitant to share the TV series with my daughter – it gave me so many nightmares as a child. There were a LOT of traumatic episodes; when Ma is alone and has an infected cut and almost cuts off her leg; when Jonathan’s wife and Mary’s baby dies in a fire that Albert set; when Ma’s baby dies and Laura goes to the mountain to beg God for a do-over; Albert’s girlfriend is raped by a man in a clown mask and then loses the baby and dies after a subsequent attack; when an entire tent town is dying from some infectious disease; Mr. Edwards is attacked by a bear and John can’t shoot the bear to save him… I could go on and on. But again, for some reason I absolutely loved the show!
    On a different note – Katie, I hope you are feeling better today!

  21. victoria says:

    I didn’t like Nick & Norah as much as I wanted to. I thought both Michael Cera and Kat Dennings were awesome, but the plotting and pacing? Not so much. And leaving the drunk friend to her own devices was pretty disturbing, I thought. (I know they were looking for her and all, and it wasn’t a reflection on the other characters — it was just very cringy to watch!).

    I did like last year’s Ramona & Beezus. My Spawn does NOT like anything scary, and that held both of our interests.

  22. geri a says:

    @jzzy-nope, not cool nuns. pretty sure Sister Helen hadn’t seen the movie, and on the cover of the album they were semi nude too, so we made sure she didn’t see that. i think she was excited that we were wanting to listen to/read something other than nancy drew and beverly cleary for a change :) LOL

  23. Abigail says:

    The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler. It’s only about 40 minutes but that’s perfect. The makers of the movie didn’t have to come up with some crazy plot device to stretch a children’s book into a full length film. Excellent voice talents (Helena Bonham Carter, James Corden, Tom Wilkinson, and John Hurt). And the score is stunning! My 2.5-year-old loves them both.

  24. Clisby says:

    Among the big fails:

    Walt Disney’s Bambi, The Jungle Book, The Little Mermaid (Either the writers didn’t bother to read the book/story or they were just determined to dumb them down); The City of Ember, which was a pretty good book but a worthless movie; Avatar, The Last Airbender (took a wonderful cartoon series and turned it into a below-mediocre film).

    Among the scores:

    The most recent Narnia movies, especially The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (my favorite of the series) was pretty good, too. Prince Caspian – eh.

    Lord of the Rings

    Book I would love to see adapted: The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman. I’m reading it for the 3rd time.

  25. jzzy55 says:

    Graveyard would be interesting to see, I agree Clisby. As it’s already a visually oriented book perhaps it would even be a fairly faithful adaptation. The trailer for the book is terrible, though. Just a series of powerpoint-like slides taken from the book. I could have done a better job (I worked in book marketing, so I mean that literally).
    Unfortunately although I liked the book I don’t remember anything about it except it had a clever plot device. But that could be my advanced age…

  26. Michele says:

    Little Women is one of my favorite novels. Backstory – my emotionally distant and elderly grandfather took me on a rare outing on my 12th birthday – we went to the bookstore and he picked out a beautiful edition of the book and inscribed it: “To Micky, for many happy hours and years”. Having two sisters myself, I loved the book and read it over and over. The 1994 movie adaption was phenomenal, and what a cast. I especially love Christian Bale as Laurie, and Winona Ryder knocked it out of the park as Jo. I can never turn it off when I come across it on TV. I also 100% agree with “Clueless”, and I love the Gwyneth Paltrow version of “Emma” as well. Babe was so moving, one of my faves. And I know it’s an obvious choice, but I thought they did a great job on adapting the Harry Potter movies.

    I have to agree with another poster that “A Little Princess” is wonderful. Not the Shirley Temple one, but the 1995 version. Liesel Matthews plays the title role and breaks your heart. Cinematography, costumes and most importantly the story; all beautiful. Also loved the 1993 version of “The Secret Garden” with Dame Maggie Smith.

  27. Clisby says:

    With The Graveyard Book, I really enjoyed seeing all the parallels to The Jungle Book; it’s pretty much the same story. I loved JB, but have never seen a good movie adaptation of it.

  28. Clisby says:

    Oh, and jzzy55 – I agree about the trailer. You’d think somebody could afford a decent trailer for a book that won both the Newbery and Carnegie Medal.

  29. Ruth says:

    Some great stuff! Here are a couple of additions I think are worthy of the list:

    A WRINKLE IN TIME (novel written by Madeleine L’Engle, published in 1962) – Astrophysics fantasy for the younger set. No “big name” actors were cast as leads (Alfre Woodard and Kyle Secor play secondary characters) in this 2003 telemovie, and, yes, the special effects pale in comparison to what we see today. The plot, themes, and characters, though, are timeless in their appeal. As young elementary school kiddo, my son (now 15, nearly 16, YO) absolutely loved this book (which he read before seeing the movie); although he will tell you that he preferred the book to the movie, he really enjoyed the movie too, and both media provided a great entre’ into the sci-fi/fantasy genre. The movie has few of the religious allusions made in the novel, but that didn’t diminish it for us – your mileage may vary. Don’t be put off by the Disney logo on the DVD label; the film was independently produced in Canada – it won a Best Feature Film award at the Toronto Children’s Film Festival – and Disney was only responsible for its US distribution.

    THE WIZARD OF OZ (L. Frank Baum – series published 1900 – 1942) “I’ll get you, my pretty … ” Is there anyone who grew up in the ’60s or ’70s who doesn’t remember the yearly rite of gathering in front of the TV to watch this movie? From the terror of the flying monkeys to the joy we felt when (SPOILER ;-) the Wicked Witch is melted at the end, the iconic 1939 film – based on the original book in the series, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – is a shared classic across several generations … which is especially ironic given its failure in the box office during its initial theatre run. The books – even the first book in the series, on which the film is based – include many events and characters that are not included in the film; Dorothy is much more of a heroine in the book (she is the one who saves her friends rather than the other way around – Baum was purportedly an early-day feminist), the Wicked Witch of the West makes only a brief appearance in the book, and the book-OZ is supposed to be a real place rather than a dream. I don’t honestly know how appealing the entire series will continue to be to kids raised on high-tech and lightning-fast-pacing, but I hope that kids (and grown-ups) continue to “follow the yellow brick road” to enjoy both the movie and the books for many years to come.

    MARY POPPINS (P.L. Travers – published 1934-1988) – Another book-series-turned-into-a-musical-film. We read aloud from these books to our son when he was very young, and he loved listening to these stories about the Banks family on Cherry Tree Lane. The 1964 film release, based upon various events chronicled in the eight-book series, happens to be the very first movie I ever saw in the movie theatre as a child (yes, I saw it first-run!), and I confess that I still love it today. It’s also the movie that convinced us that our son would likely fare well in a movie theater: He sat riveted to the TV screen through the full length of the Mary Poppins film – and it’s a long film! – when we showed it to him on DVD at home. Again, and again, and again. Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Ed Wynn, Glynis Johns, David Thomlinson … what an amazing cast, and their obvious enjoyment is infectious. (Insert obligatory “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” reference here :-)

    HARRY POTTER. ‘Nuff said. ;-)

  30. Ruth says:

    BTW, my “cool” son and his just-as-”cool” best friend – one nearly 16 YO, the other one already 16 YO – are endearingly geeked out to see THE LORAX. Both teens peg this Dr. Seuss book as one of their very favorites, and have been planning to see the new movie since the commercials hit the airwaves. I find their unexpected enthusiasm about a movie based on a book they read as little dudes ten-plus years ago to be really … well, cool. ;-)

    I’m excited to see it too – even without the “stunt” casting, which my son and his friend don’t really care about, either – but as a 50+ year-old mom, I know that I’m kind of beside-the-point. Still, the fact that several theatres near us have showings scheduled at 9 PM or later, I guess that there are more than a few people beyond grade-school age who want to see this one … IMAX 3D, here we come!

  31. FL Mom says:

    ‘The Princess Bride.’
    ROUS, only mostly dead all day, villain named Humperdinck. Classic.

  32. Clisby says:

    Oh, gosh yes, The Princess Bride. Loved the book and the movie.

  33. Horacio says:

    Great topic. I’ve enjoyed the HP moives all of them, but I finally cracked open the books last fall and recently finished reading the series. I’m glad I did. The moives are terrific, but there is more going on in the book. My favorite example of this was seeing The Hunt for Red October years ago. I walked out of the movie convinced there was much more to the story. So I got the book at the library. I then went on to read a half-dozen Tom Clancy books. I was totally hooked. So, while I believe that moives can be brilliant, especially when it comes to action scenes, give me the books. Always the book. To know where the heart of the author was.

  34. Vaniya says:

    Liz, I’m *almost* always going to epefrr a book to a film because I love the images a beautifully written novel will inspire in my head, but I also LOVE seeing movies. I wasn’t able to take time to wade through The Lord of the Rings before seeing the film, so I enjoyed the shortcut of going right to the movie. With the Jane Austen Book Club, I liked the book but loved the film. With Pride and Prejudice adaptations, they’re often different from the novel, but I still enjoy them. And, though I haven’t seen all of the Harry Potter films, I really liked the ones I watched and appreciated the differences between the books and the movies I thought they did a terrific job with them .Marilyn Brant`s last blog was

  35. Leonor says:

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  36. Sam says:

    There is that moment when you see that a book has been adapted, and you kind of panic because books translated to the big screen is NOTORIOUSLY bad. It’s all about perspective, right? But there are definitely the top ten! Although that is always up to debate. http://thecelebritycafe.com/feature/2012/04/top-ten-movies-based-books really got the list right.

  37. Michael Majid says:

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