For The Child In All Of Us: A Look At Children’s Books On the Silver Screen


Published: November 5, 2009

Walking into my elementary school library is like traveling back in time to a “Schoolhouse Rock!” video. The rugs are throwback 1974, the “paintings”—if you can call them that—are of psychedelically-printed owls. Framed needle-point floral patterns litter the puke-colored, taupe walls, along with a disturbingly ugly color of orange to accentuate the ceiling. The smell of stale, plastic-covered books lingers in the air—a smell reminiscent of an old board of education office building that hasn’t been cleaned or dusted for years. As I pick up a small hardcover copy of “The Hardy Boys” and open it to look inside, the frail, yellowish-brown pages deteriorate and rub off on my fingers, leaving a grainy, dust-like residue for me to brush off on my clothes.

Sitting on the rainbow-colored, circular rug, I cannot help but notice all of my favorite picture books on display in the doorway: “Corduroy,”  “Green Eggs and Ham,” “Goodnight Moon” and Shel Silverstein’s “Falling Up.” I love story time just as much as I love my L.A. Lights sneakers. But there was one book that always caught my attention and possessed me to take it out of the library, time and time again.

Maurice Sendak’s  “Where the Wild Things Are” was unlike any book I had ever read, containing larger-than-life pictures of the coolest monsters an eight-year-old has ever seen, as well as an easy sentence or two on each page for beginning readers. Listening to this story gave me comfort and solace from a world otherwise ruled by secondhand rugs and a drill sergeant librarian. Any child reading “Where the Wild Things Are” could not help but picture themselves as the protagonist, Max, king of the wild things, participating in the royal rumpus or climbing the big, burly, furry back of your favorite wild thing. Between the mixed style of Sendak’s cross-hatching, use of the color spectrum and moral message, “Where the Wild Things Are” was a story book for children who wanted to step out of their usual comfort zones in search of something a little more… wild.

With the release of Spike Jonze’s new adaptation of Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are,” critics and movie-goers alike have been praising the movie not just for the cinematography and the half-costumed, half-computer animated wild things but also for the more mature and moral vibe the movie sends out, thanks to Dave Eggers’ extended screenplay. Many have felt that the new adaptation has been directed mostly toward young adults rather than kids, the traditional audience for the storybook.

“A kid could see [the film] and still get the same lessons they get from the book,” said Tyler Wilson, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’12.

Others feel that the film version of “Wild Things,” along with other children’s books converted to the silver screen, takes away from the innocence the original book had projected, yet most are happy with the idea of a child’s favorite book reaching the big screen.

“It’s more interesting for kids to see their favorite books come to life,” said Jackie Bianculli, FCLC ’13.

With the ever-persuasive Hollywood productions, some directors and screenwriters stray from the original storyline of the children’s book and embark on a new direction in order to imagine what the characters might have done one way or what the scenes could be in another.

For instance, the movie adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s “The Cat in the Hat” proved to be a major failure, even with the comical genius of Mike Myers as the famous cat. Unlike the book, the movie introduced new characters and situations that kids weren’t familiar with, leaving them with questions rather than smiles. Other flops include the recent “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” and “Curious George.” Due to poor turnout, failed publicity and disloyalty to the original story, movies such as these unfortunately miss the mark and try too hard to become memorable.

Besides the premiere of “Where the Wild Things Are,” these are just a few examples of what I’ve thought to be either successful or just plain awful.

“Corduroy” by Don Freeman

Premiering in 1984 as a movie made for TV, “Corduroy” tells the story of a toy bear that discovers a missing button from his overalls. The bear, Corduroy, spends the night in a department store, searching high and low for his missing button, only to be pleasantly surprised in the end. Despite its release on TV, “Corduroy” became widely popular and accepted by children who were already familiar with the book.

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (1966 and 2000) by Dr. Seuss

Loved by all—young and old—the 1966 version of Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” brings joy to even the biggest Scrooges around Christmas time. Combining the rough-voiced narration of Boris Karloff, the gently penciled animations of the Whos and the Grinch’s pestering but secretly beloved dog Max, 1966’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” was a cult classic compared to the less-loved remake of the movie. In the 2000 version, directed by Ron Howard, parts of the story changed with some added, unnecessary events.

“James and the Giant Peach” by Roald Dahl

“James and the Giant Peach” took a different approach to Roald Dahl’s classic book, using stop/start animation instead of the popular, computerized animation of the time. Blending a story that was actually dedicated to the original book, director Henry Selick enlisted the voices of Richard Dreyfuss and David Thewlis, known best for his role as Professor Lupin in “Harry Potter and the Escape from Azkaban.” “James and the Giant Peach” tells the story of an orphan, James, who escapes his abusive, ugly aunts to befriend a group of fun-loving insects on his quest to New York City.

“The Indian in the Cupboard” by Lynne Reid Banks

Released in 1995, “The Indian in the Cupboard” tells the story of a young boy who receives a magic cupboard for his birthday. When he stores his favorite action figures in the cupboard for a short time, the action figures come to life. The boy befriends Native American and cowboy action figures with whom he forms a loving bond that lasts through even the worst of times. “The Indian in the Cupboard” hit the right notes for kids who remember grabbing the book off their school libraries’ shelves and being amazed by the imaginative possibility of their favorite toys coming to life.