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Children's Books Into Films

By Jerry Griswold

Read the book, then see the film—to my way of thinking, that's the ideal sequence. Here are the four children's films that I believe will make a splash in 2009 and—for those who want to read the book first—information about the stories they are based on.

Release date: February 6, 2009
Distributed by: Focus Films

By Neil Gaiman
Illustratated by Dave McKean
HarperFestival: $6.99 (Paperback)
This animated movie (stop-motion 3D) has already been released and become a favorite of mine. Not surprisingly, it recalls The Nightmare Before Christmas—a film on which the director of Coraline (Henry Selick) worked with Tim Burton. It also reminds me of Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth because while I like the high-flown fantasy, I am not sure I completely understand it. Based on Neil Gaiman's book by the same title, the story concerns a plucky little girl named Coraline (rhymes with "Madeline") who travels to a parallel world and encounters the Other Mother, a nicer and Freudian alternative to Coraline's real mother (although she does sport black buttons for eyes). Gaiman, by the way, recently won the Newbery Award for his The Graveyard Book and Neil Jordan is currently making that into a film.
Harry Potter and the Half Blood PrinceHarry Potter and the
Half-Blood Prince

Release date: July 17, 2009
Distributed by:
Warner Brothers

Harry Potter and the
Half-Blood Prince

By J.K. Rowling
Illustrated by Mary GrandPré
Scholastic: $10.39 (Paperback)
David Yates directs this next installment in the legend. The cast includes many familiar faces: Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Emma Watson (Hermione), Alan Rickman (Snape), as well as others. Book 6 is where Harry develops an interest in the opposite sex and once again faces his nemesis Voldemort on the school grounds at Hogwarts.
Where the Wild Things AreWhere the Wild
Things Are

Release date: October 16, 2009
Distributed by: Warner Brothers

Where the Wild Things Are

By Maurice Sendak
Harper Collins: $12.21 (Hardcover)
"Sassy kid amongst the monsters" might describe Coraline, but the earlier and more well known version of this story is the one featuring Max and the furry creatures in Maurice Sendak's beloved picture book. The challenge facing director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich) is to create a movie not so frightening that kids run out of the theater but not so lightweight that the monsters seem like Jim Henson's loveable muppets. Rather than head in the gothic direction of Coraline, the forthcoming film is said to be more in the eerie mood of The Neverending Story.
The Fantastic Mr. FoxThe Fantastic Mr. Fox
Release date: November 6, 2009
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox

By Roald Dahl; illustrated by Quentin Blake
Puffin: $5.99 (Paperback)
In a sort of twisted version of Wind in the Willows, Roald Dahl's short chapter book tells the story of a fox family and other subterranean creatures (badgers, weasels, rabbits) beset by three smarmy farmers intent on destroying them. The humans lose. Humans, however, provide voices for the characters in the film: among them, George Clooney (Mr. Fox), Meryl Streep (Mrs. Fox), and Bill Murray (Mr. Badger). Another stop-action animated work, this movie was begun by directors Henry Selick and Wes Anderson until the production company went bankrupt. Selick then left to take on Coraline, and Anderson eventually sold and completed the film for -- and this is almost too appropriate! -- 20th Century Fox.

Alice In WonderlandLet me add that two interesting films are slated to appear next year. Tim Burton will offer a new Alice in Wonderland (featuring Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter); it is scheduled for release on March 19, 2010. And Guillermo Del Toro is at work on a new, stop-motion version of Pinocchio; no release date is available. Both Burton and Del Toro have expressed disappointment with the earlier Disney versions of these stories and, not surprisingly, have promised darker versions. You might get cracking on reading those books as well.

Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass
By Lewis Carroll; Illustrated by John Tenniel
Penguin: $9.00 (Paperback)
By Carlo Collodi; Illustrated by Gioia Flammenghi
Penguin: $4.99 (Paperback)


About the Author
Jerry Griswold is the Director of San Diego State University's National Center for the Study of Children's Literature. His most recent book is Feeling Like a Kid.


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