Why do children’s books make great films?

Why do children’s books make great films?

Almost since film was invented, moviemakers have been searching for engaging stories to adapt, and they invariably need to look no further than children’s books. Among the first ever films to be made were adaptations of the fairytale Cinderella, a version of which was written by the Grimm Brothers in the early 1800s, although the story itself goes back much further. Since then, countless children’s books have made the silver screen, and at The Elephant’s Trunk, we’ve been taking a look at some of those adaptations to see if we can spot any common themes.

One of the biggest movies of all-time – and it’s shown on television most Christmases – is the Wizard of Oz. This wonderful tale of Dorothy, her dog Toto and an assortment of friends – the Tinman, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow – was adapted from a popular children’s classic by American writer Lyman Frank Baum.

Another festive movie staple is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The story of the flying car is based on a novel by (many are surprised to discover) Ian Fleming. A far cry from his usual hero, James Bond 007, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is great for the silver screen, although we’re still a bit scared of the child catcher!

If we’re mentioning children’s classics, we mustn’t forget Mary Poppins. What a marvellous musical adaptation this is, with many memorable songs, like Feed the Birds and A Spoonful of Sugar. In fact, a film has even been made charting how the book got from page to screen, and the lengths Walt Disney went to, to persuade author PL Travers to allow him to make the film.

If classics make great films, so do many modern books. The Harry Potter series of films, based on JK Rowling’s stories of the young wizard, have been named as the most popular film franchise in the world, netting $7.6 billion in worldwide box office takings. The magical world and captivating characters of Harry Potter caught the imagination of millions of readers worldwide. The book series' immense popularity, rich storytelling, and potential for visual spectacle made it an ideal choice for film adaptation.

Fantasies, like the Harry Potter books, make a great subject for children’s films. CS Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia series have been turned into various big and, also, small screen adaptations. These books – seven in total – offer a mix of adventure, magic, and moral themes that resonate both with children and adults. And what fantastic characters they contain, from Mr Tumnus to Aslan to Prince Caspian.

While fantasy is often a theme, not all characters are imaginary. Take Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Here, we have real animals – a snake, a tiger, a bear, a panther, and a pack of wolves – all woven into a story about a boy being brought up in the wild. Disney made the first adaptation of The Jungle Book, but it’s such a wonderful story, the company followed up the 1967 cartoon with a live action adventure in 2016.

Talking animals are a very popular trope. Winnie the Pooh, and his friends from the Hundred Acre Wood (including Piglet, Eeyore, Rabbit, Owl and Tigger), have been charming children for generations, whether they read the stories or see the film versions – and often both!

And finally, as children’s book writers and publishers, we couldn’t not mention the Roald Dahl adaptations. His books, and the subsequent films, so often look at those who might otherwise be excluded. For example, the BFG is an outsider among other giants; Matilda is precociously bright but this isn’t appreciated by her parents; Charlie (of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) lives in poverty; while James (from James and the Giant Peach) has to live with his ghastly aunts when his parents are eaten by a carnivorous rhino!

We love this idea of inclusivity. It’s what we’re all about at The Elephant’s Trunk. Whether or not our personalised children’s books ever make it into films, we love writing them. Why not browse our books here and find out how you can put your little one at the heart of the story.