Five children’s books deserving big-screen treatment

Spike Jonze’s film adaptation of one of the all-time greatest children’s books Where the Wild Things Are comes out Friday and it makes me wonder, what took ‘em so long? If feature-length films could be made of Dr. Seuss legends How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Cat in the Hat and Horton Hears a Who!, what’s to keep Maurice Sendak’s ode to the child’s imagination from becoming a successful motion picture?

Well, we need not answer these questions, because we’re a day away from what looks to be a box office smash. If the nostalgia of the story, beautiful lighting or wonderfully furry costume/CGI wild things didn’t hook you in the trailer, than the amazing choice of Arcade Fire music did. Whoever thought we’d see an indie send-up of a family movie and think it was a great idea? Anyway, I’m convinced this will be the best wide release film of the fall movie season.

So when it does happen, when Where the Wild Things Are surpasses expectations critically and financially, we can expect some kind of immediate response from major production companies who will be convinced there could be a market for more of these films. The question then becomes, what’s next?

My childhood was full of books that I’d love to revisit cinematically as an adult and with that thought came this list: The five beloved children’s book best-sellers that ought to be optioned or whose options should be dug out of some dusty file cabinet and put into production. What do you think? Leave a comment if there’s a key piece of your childhood I didn’t mention that ought to be made for the big screen.

The Little Engine that Could

This book has been poisoning children’s minds for more than a half century with the unrealistic notion that optimism equals progress and that if you believe in yourself you can do/overcome anything – but what the kids don’t know can’t hurt them – until they graduate college and can’t find jobs. But that’s for another day.

At the least, I’d think a producer is smart if he says “I think I can” in terms of adapting this classic story of a small train that hauls a broken loco over a mountain when all other trains think it impossible. Adapted as a 30-minute film nearly 20 years ago, I still think this story could be expanded and even done live action/without sticking a dumb pasty Thomas the Tank Engine face on the train. Add some human characters to help or maybe try and loot the train, stretch out the perils of the journey and change the title to something more adventurous and maybe The Little Engine can.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

It’s hard to believe Eric Carle’s book about a ridiculously insatiate caterpillar that feasts on lollipops and Swiss cheese is already forty years old, but it’s been teaching how to count and read short words as well as learn about metamorphosis to every generation in that time period. My thought is an animation studio could borrow on Carle’s beautiful illustrative style to bring the world of the VHC to life.

Ok, I admit there’s not much of a plot to this book; you can’t make an entire scene about how on day three that darn hungry caterpillar ate three strawberries, but you could thread that into a bigger, more imaginative (and probably humorous) narrative. Give him a friend like the Dieting Grasshopper and there’s some potential. I can perfectly imagine the VHC being voiced by Seth Rogen, a bit of a lazy caterpillar as well who for some reason hasn’t managed to pupate yet, maybe because he’s too fat for a cocoon. Heimlich in A Bug’s Life is a good example though I’m thinking a little more toned down than that. Anyway, bugs and food have sold well in the past on the screen, so adding 40 years of reputation to that formula seems like an idea.

Green Eggs and Ham

Of all the Dr. Seuss books that have gotten big screen treatment, you’d think someone would’ve tried adapting one of the best ones. I understand that GE&H is more about the rhymes than the story, but that means total creative reign over what it’s about. As long as you include a couple kids and a character named Sam I Am and some food with green food coloring in it, you can let the title sell the rest.

I think an adaptation unlike what the last couple live-action Seuss films have done could suit this story well. Those tried to recreate the Seuss world as well as the stories, but this could work in a totally contemporary setting. It would give the Seuss-ian events more of a magical impact too – you’d really get a sense of green eggs and ham being totally weird.

Where’s Waldo?

Talk about plot freedom. Obviously you wouldn’t just have a search for Waldo, but Waldo going missing and his friends the Wizard, the dog and the cute nerdy chick-Waldo going all over the world to find him. The adventure story potential is through the roof here.

One of my favorite things to do as a kid was look around and find all the little sub-stories going on in all the locations. There are literally hundreds of ideas in the pages of a Where’s Waldo? book. He’s an iconic character begging to come to life and as long as he’s not played by Will Ferrell, we should be fine.

The Giving Tree

Shel Silverstein’s classic is an automatic tear-jerker and if done properly and in a similar spirit to Where the Wild Things Are, it could be just as good on the screen as sort of a family drama/coming of age story with a twist of fantasy. The book is about a young boy who bonds with a tree in his childhood but ends up dismantling her for use in his adult life. It’s a beautiful story of growing up and selflessness and sacrifice that with a good accompanying story line could be nothing short of moving.

It could even be done as 1960s period piece, since the book was published in ’64 and the ‘50s and ‘60s were the heyday of kids growing up and discovering themselves – according to film. Truthfully, however, they didn’t have nearly enough to amuse themselves indoors as we do now, so a boy bonding with a tree in the ‘60s makes more sense than a boy bonding with one when he can just sit on the couch and bond with his Nintendo DS.


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