I am currently compiling a list of books that every child’s bookshelf should contain (look out for a future post). There are a lot of kids out there who love to read and the only problem their parents have is keeping up with consumption. But for many of us, keeping our kids reading in the face of so many other assaults on their time is like waging a war on multiple fronts and it’s not always easy to keep them interested in books once they get past 11 or 12 years old.
If you recognise this, then a film adaptation can be a good way of sustaining their interest, supplementing the act of reading with some visual stimulation and sharing the engagement with them (some kids just need more social interaction and books generally mean being on your own). So here are my top picks. They may not be the best film adaptations (such a list would be incomplete without The Wizard of Oz, in my view, but the L Frank Baum book on which it is based would not top most people’s reading lists), rather it is a list where I think both the film and the book complement each other and which may help kids with or lead them to the book. The order is in roughly increasing age appropriateness (my opinion).
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl – I could probably populate a whole list with Roald Dahl adaptations, but the two films that have been made of this book are both superb and very different, which just goes to show how differently books can be interpreted. Personally, I prefer the 1971 version Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder, but the 2005 version with Johnny Depp is also excellent.
- Matilda by Roald Dahl – the 1996 film stars Danny DeVito and his wife Rhea Perlman as Matilda’s appalling parents.
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll – there have been many film and television adaptations of this and its follow-up Alice Through the Looking Glass. I love the 2010 version by Tim Burton which stars Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp.
- The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis – again, there have been many adaptations of the five books in the series. I love the big 2005 production which stars Tilda Swinton as the White Witch and Liam Neeson as the voice of Aslan.
- How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell – the three films (2010-17) may be rather more well-known than the books, but if your kids liked the films try and get them into the books.
- The Sheep-Pig by Dick King-Smith – you can’t not love the 1995 film Babe based on this book.
- Madame Doubtfire by Anne Fine – Robin Williams is on classic form in the 1994 film version Mrs Doubtfire.
- The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DeTerlizzi and Holly Black – my son loved the movie and then went on to read all the books.
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – a classic book, and the 1933 film version with Katharine Hepburn is a classic also. There is also a 1994 film with Susan Sarandon, Winona Ryder and Kirsten Dunst, among other big names.
- Northern Lights by Philip Pullman – The Golden Compass (2007) is based on the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy and stars Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig and Ian McKellen among others.
- Coraline by Neil Gaiman – I haven’t read the book, but I love the 2009 movie. Gaiman will appeal to a certain kind of child who likes dark fantasy.
- A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snickett – I love the 2004 film starring Jim Carrey.
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – a challenging book and a challenging film, released in 2013, but well worth the effort. Recommended for 11-13 year olds. Younger kids will need you to watch this with them.
- The Fault in our Stars by John Green – my daughters, aged, 12 and 14, love John Green. They love the high emotion! The film is pretty good, but a weepie, so tissues at the ready.
- Holes by Louis Sachar – a superb book. The film is rather more comic than the book, in my view, but a good one for teenage boys I would suggest.
- Watership Down by Richard Adams – another classic weepie the 1978 film was voiced by a big-name cast and who could forget the score and theme song, Bright Eyes by Art Garfunkel. Written in 1972, teenagers will recognise the issue of environmental destruction.
Have you spotted the glaring omission? Yes, the Harry Potter series. Left out simply because it needs no introduction. Most kids, it seems to me, have read or watched all of them, or both.
Are there any that you would add to this list? I would love to hear of your favourites.
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