Books That Would Make Great Movies

Elizabeth Bluemle -- March 1st, 2016

Movie versions of kids’ books are iffy. A few are great; many are mediocre or worse. I always encourage children to read the book before seeing the movie, because the book is almost always better. That said, there are some books based on real events that could be fantastic movies. For instance:

My colleague Sandy suggested this idea for a blog post. Recently, she pressed a copy of Phoebe the Spy by Judith Berry Griffin (illus. by Margot Tomes) into the hands of a friend who directs action films. She told him she knew this wasn’t his genre, but thought he might know the right person for it. It’s the terrific, suspenseful true story of an African-American girl who — in the guise of George Washington’s housekeeper — became a spy for American revolutionaries in the 1700’s and successfully helped avert a plot to assassinate Washington. What a fantastic, positive, inspiring, and action-filled story to bring to a wide audience! And how revolutionary to show an African-American character in history who — though in danger because of the spying — leads a life that isn’t primarily downtrodden. Audiences would be intrigued and inspired by such a kicka** young heroine!

Sandy also thought that Margi Preus’s wonderful Shadow on the Mountain would make a wonderful movie, and I agree! Another true espionage story, this one is about a 14-year-old Norwegian boy during World War II who smuggled illegal newspapers through his Nazi-occupied territory and carried supplies to members of the resistance in the mountains. The book culminates with his escape over the mountains. As the Horn Book wrote in its glowing review, “The final chapters, which chronicle Espen’s dramatic escape to Sweden — days and nights of mountain skiing, Nazis in hot pursuit — take the book into adventure-thriller territory without losing the humanity that characterizes Preus’s account.” Who wouldn’t want to see that movie?!

The mountainous adventure made me think of another book whose movie I would eagerly watch: Jordan Romero’s No Summit Out of Sight: The True Story of the Youngest Person to Climb the Seven SummitsAs young as age 10, Romero knew he wanted to climb big mountains and dreamed of climbing the world’s highest peaks — a challenge for climbers twice his age and much more experienced. At 13, he summitted Everest. The book is filled not only with Romero’s successes, but also the struggles and tough moments where he almost gave up. It’s a gripping read, all the better for being true. It’s likely this book (and possibly either of the other two I mentioned) has already been optioned, but if that’s true, let’s get cracking and make those movies, studios!

It occurred to me that all of the books I imagined wanting to be made into movies were nonfiction titles. I often don’t like my fictional heroes and heroines remade by someone else, but retelling a true story on the silver screen feels different.

Of course, the minute I say that, I think about Cynthia Kadohata’s The Thing About Luck, which I think would make an incredibly appealing movie. Winner of the National Book Award (and recipient of six starred reviews), this book tells the story of a 12-year-old girl named Summer whose family’s luck has taken a turn for the worse.

Left in the care of their grandparents, Summer and her brother, Jaz, have to help navigate harvest season for the big company that hires them as farm workers. This story is so refreshing, funny, and packed with heart. It’s a different perspective from ones we typically see in films — Summer as a contemporary Japanese-American kid growing up with very traditional Japanese grandparents — and is full of events both large and small (like To Kill a Mockingbird or Bridge to Terabithia — hint, hint, movie people). It’s also a timely story, set in current times when so many American children work as migrant laborers on farms, and many of us (especially urbanites) know so little about that world.

People are hungry for stories that inspire their souls and enrich their minds, especially when accomplished without saccharine sweetness or heavy-handed moralizing. As Maggie Smith’s character in Peter Shaffer’s Lettice and Lovage says, beating her drum, “Enlarge! Enliven! Enlighten!”

This year’s Oscars for a bunch of movies glorifying violent solutions to manmade ills made me yearn for stories of real people acting courageously and generously during difficult times — and making a significant positive difference as a result.

What children’s and young adult books would YOU most like to see on the silver screen (as long as they aren’t mangled in the process)?

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