Undoubtedly, many children love books. Indeed, to read and be read to can be one of the great joys of childhood. However, it is also true that books are not always appealing – some children might find them boring and uninspiring. To complicate matters, books these days have much to contend with when vying for a child’s attention what with the likes of smartphones, laptops, and games consoles etc.
Yet books survive – and even prosper.
One great way to help entice a child into reading is to look to the silver screen. It may sound odd at first but just think of the many great children’s films that are themselves based on children’s books: Oliver Twist, Harry Potter, The Hobbit, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, to name but a few. By first watching such films with your child – and if they enjoy it, mind – you might find it much easier to them interested in the books that the films are based on, if they are age appropriate, of course.
Alongside using films that are directly inspired by children’s novels, we can also look to a number of other ways to entice children to read and become interested in books. Taking your child to the theatre (if you can afford it, that is), or perhaps putting on a radio play or an audiobook on when driving could be key steps in helping your child to take an interest in stories and in books. Each medium can offer the variety to make a story entertaining enough to make a child want to read more about it.Below is a short list of 5 highly rated children’s films that are based on children’s novels. Of course, there are many, many films that are not included here – maybe you can think of your own favourite films from your own childhood. We have tried to include an even mix of both classic and modern films that can be easily found online along with their novel forebears.
1. Wizard of Oz (1939)
Directed by Victor Flemming and produced by MGM studios, the 1939 technicolour film Wizard of Oz has become a classic the world over. Who can ever forget the whimsical tale of Dorothy and her magic ruby slippers? The characters she meets in her adventure along the Yellow Brick Road are part of cinematic history: the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, and of course the Wicked Witch of the West. Oh, and let’s not forget Toto. This classic of 20th-century cinema will have your child singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and wanting to dress up as their favourite character from the magical land of Oz.
The film is based on the novel ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’, written in 1900 by American author L.Frank Baums. This highly-rated children’s novel was relaunched by Puffin Classics in 2015 and would make an excellent storytime read after watching the 1939 film adaptation. Also, in 2013, director Sam Raimi produced his own cinematic version of Frank Baums’ tale in Oz the Great and Powerful.
2. How to Train Your Dragon
Of the many computer-animated children’s films to have come out over the past 10 years, How to Train Your Dragon has been one of the very best. Released in 2010 and directed by the same DreamWorks team that brought us Lilo & Stitch, the tale of How to Train your Dragon centres upon misfit Hiccup, a quirky teen who befriends the injured dragon Toothless as they team up to fight for their peoples’ future. After the initial success of the first film, How to Train Your Dragon 2 was released in 2014.
The two films are based on a series of 12 children’s books written by British author Cressida Cowell. The first book in series was published in 2003, with the latest installment appearing in 2015. Audio CDs of the books are also available and are narrated by David Tennant of Dr. Who and Broadchurch fame.
3. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
I would happily bet that almost every child has seen or heard the fantastic story of Willy Wonka and his chocolate factory, of the super lucky kids who each find one of the highly coveted golden tickets hidden away in delicious Wonka chocolate bars. I also bet many have dreamed of swimming and gorging in the chocolate river that runs through Mr. Wonka’s factory – a factory with a very curious staff made up of orange-skinned Oompa-Loompas. The 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is indeed a British cinema standard for all ages. The memorable Gene Wilder does a top job as Willy Wonka the chocolatier extraordinaire, and the props and sets of the weird and wacky factory are truly spectacular to behold.
The film is based on a book by well-renowned children’s author Road Dahl, entitled Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Written in 1964, Dahl’s tall tale is wonderfully illustrated by the scraggly-styled pen of Quentin Blake. In 2004, Tim Burton – director of Coraline and The Nightmare Before Christmas – put his own spin on Willy Wonka’s factory with help of his acting pal Johnny Depp.
4. Freaky Friday
Many adults who were teenagers in the early 2000’s will most likely recall the comedy-fantasy stylings of Freaky Friday. Released in 2003 and starring Lindsey Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis, Freaky Friday was a highly successful film in which the mother-daughter relationship is well and truly flipped on its head. Freaky Friday is a film about wistful teenager Annabel who wakes up one Friday to find that she has swapped bodies with her Mother, with whom she had argued the previous night. The tale has several movie incarnations, the earliest appearing in 1976 starring a young Jodie Foster. The 2003 Lindsey Lohan edition spawned a hit soundtrack album that reached no.19 in the U.S Billboard 200 and sold over 650,000 copies.
The numerous film versions of Freaky Friday are each based upon the popular comedic children’s novel of the same name, written by U.S author Mary Rodgers and published in 1972. Three book sequels were released after the success of Freaky Friday the novel. More recently, Disney Theatrical Productions have developed a stage musical of the novel, the first performance took place in the U.S in late 2016.
5. Matilda (1996)
The film Matilda is a classic piece of 1990’s children’s cinema. Every child (and adult) who has had the misfortune of seeing Miss Trunchbull gobble chocolate cake will never –ever – forget it. The lovable children’s fantasy comedy film, directed by none other than the illustrious Danny DeVito, has led to an incredibly successful stage musical that in recent years has eclipsed London’s West End.
Matilda (film and musical) are based on, again, a work by famous children’s author Road Dahl. Written in 1988, Dahl’s Matilda is once again illustrated by the excellent Quinten Blake. Matilda won the Children’s Book Award in 1999, coming again to prominence after Danny Devito’s 1996 movie. The book has also been adapted into an audiobook read by actress Kate Winslet, as well as being developed into a two-part BBC Radio 4 programme narrated by Lenny Henry.
By combining the platforms of film, stage, musical, audiobook, and paperbacks, we can really make the stories come alive for our children to enjoy and, with luck, inspire a life-long love of the written word. So, pull out the popcorn and have a film night on the sofa!
Written by Thomas Smith