Movies Inspired by Middle Grade Novels

I kept seeing commercials for Home and thought it looked cute, but didn’t really think about seeing it in the theater…until I read that it was adapted from The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex. I LOVE that book! Now, I can’t wait to see the movie.

This made me think about other middle grade novels that inspired movies. I think it’s fun to read a book then see how the movie compares to it. I often enjoy books way more than the movies and feel like people are missing some important things that didn’t transfer into the film version. But there are times when I like the movie better, or love both the book and the movie about the same amount.

Check out these middle grade novels that were turned into movies:

THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY

Smekday coverWhen twelve-year-old Gratuity (“Tip”) Tucci is assigned to write five pages on “The True Meaning of Smekday” for the National Time Capsule contest, she’s not sure where to begin. When her mom started telling everyone about the messages aliens were sending through a mole on the back of her neck? Maybe on Christmas Eve, when huge, bizarre spaceships descended on the Earth and the aliens-called Boov-abducted her mother? Or when the Boov declared Earth a colony, renamed it “Smekland” (in honor of glorious Captain Smek), and forced all Americans to relocate to Florida via rocketpod?

In any case, Gratuity’s story is much, much bigger than the assignment. It involves her unlikely friendship with a renegade Boov mechanic named J.Lo.; a futile journey south to find Gratuity’s mother at the Happy Mouse Kingdom; a cross-country road trip in a hovercar called Slushious; and an outrageous plan to save the Earth from yet another alien invasion.

JEREMY FINK AND THE MEANING OF LIFE

Jeremy Fink coverIn one month Jeremy Fink will turn thirteen. But does he have what it takes to be a teenager? He collects mutant candy, he won’t venture more than four blocks from his apartment if he can help it, and he definitely doesn’t like surprises. On the other hand, his best friend, Lizzy, isn’t afraid of anything, even if that might get her into trouble now and then.

Jeremy’s summer takes an unexpected turn when a mysterious wooden box arrives in the mail. According to the writing on the box, it holds the meaning of life! Jeremy is supposed to open it on his thirteenth birthday. The problem is, the keys are missing, and the box is made so that only the keys will open it without destroying what’s inside. Jeremy and Lizzy set off to find the keys, but when one of their efforts goes very wrong, Jeremy starts to lose hope that he’ll ever be able to open the box. But he soon discovers that when you’re meeting people named Oswald Oswald and using a private limo to deliver unusual objects to strangers all over the city, there might be other ways of finding out the meaning of life.

MATILDA

Matilda coverMatilda is a genius. Unfortunately, her family treats her like a dolt. Her crooked car-salesman father and loud, bingo-obsessed mother think Matilda’s only talent is as a scapegoat for everything that goes wrong in their miserable lives. But it’s not long before the sweet and sensitive child decides to fight back. Faced with practical jokes of sheer brilliance, her parents don’t stand a chance.

Matilda applies her untapped mental powers to rid the school of the evil, child-hating headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, and restore her nice teacher, Miss Honey, to financial security.

THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET

Invention of Hugo Cabret coverOrphan, clock keeper, and thief, Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric, bookish girl and a bitter old man who runs a toy booth in the station, Hugo’s undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message from Hugo’s dead father form the backbone of this intricate, tender, and spellbinding mystery.

MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS

Mr. Popper's Penguins coverThe unexpected delivery of a large crate containing an Antarctic penguin changes the life and fortunes of Mr. Popper, a house painter obsessed by dreams of the Polar regions.

 

We had a great post about this back in 2010. Click on this link to check out a whole bunch of other movies that were inspired by middle grade novels.

What is your favorite movie based on a middle grade novel? Do you have any favorite novels that you’re hoping will be turned into a movie?

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s TwitterFacebook, or blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.

The Trouble with Happiness (also: a giveaway!)

cody cover

Every story needs A Problem. All writers know that.

So many wonderful middle grade novels re-enforce the lesson. Just recently, I’ve read and relished The War That Saved My Life, Stella by Starlight, Echo and Rain Reign, books that deal with abuse, deformity, war, racism, poverty, autism—problems with enormous consequences for the main characters. Their suffering leads to new, often hard-won knowledge about themselves and their world, and, of course, to change.

Something I’ve learned working in the children’s room of a public library is that plenty of kids love sad books. I’ve been asked, “Where are the books that make you cry?”  Any time I teach a writing workshop, there’s always one wrenching story about a parent, grandparent or pet dying. Grief, plain and unadorned, is what those stories are about.

So I felt myself going a bit against the grain when I set out to write my new book, Cody and the Fountain of Happiness (first in a series for younger MG readers). The title alone promises that everything will be all right in the end. Better than all right. Happiness will bubble up and overflow!

Joy is less compelling than sorrow. It’s nowhere near as dramatic. When we’re in the midst of joy, we take it for granted, something that does not happen with problems. Problems we want to solve, to conquer and eradicate, but good fortune? Being loved, being secure? We bask in the light, forgetting how lucky we are.

Cody doesn’t forget.  She’s the kid who finds delight in the ants in her front yard, or the grumpy new boy who moves in around the corner, or a brand new pair of shoes .  For Cody, many things are beautiful, from marshmallows to turtles with their thumb-shaped heads. I think of her as the optimistic part of me, times a zillion.

So what about the big problem?  Well, a beloved cat gets lost. Her mother has a hard day at work. Her friend accuses her of tricking him. Cody has her troubles, and to her they are plenty big. She makes mistakes, feels guilty, puzzles over the right thing to do. Yet her whole world, like so many children’s, is her family and neighborhood, literally the (ant-inhabited) ground beneath her feet. The trick of writing her story was to handle her small yet no less real concerns with a light but empathetic hand. To respect her worries and struggles while also keeping the tone reassuring. Writing Cody was as challenging as writing a book with much more serious issues at its center.  Kids are figuring out their world every day, every moment. Giving the ordinary its due requires a different, tender kind of attention. For examples of a writer who is a true master at this, see Junonia and The Year of Billy Miller, by Kevin Henkes.

I confess: this is the kind of book I loved when I was in the middle grades. I hated to be (too) frightened or (too) sad. Surprised was good, but above all I wanted to recognize myself in the story. I’m hoping the same kind of readers will find themselves in the unsinkable Cody.

May your own fountain of happiness never run dry! And if you’d like to meet Cody, click here: https://vimeo.com/124114384

*****

I’m giving away two signed copies of Cody, illustrated by the terrific Eliza Wheeler and published just yesterday (!!!!) with Candlewick Press. To be eligible, please leave a comment below.

Where the Story Is …

“Geography of Nowhere” – the session at the Association of Writing Programs (AWP) conference on April 11, 2015, caught my interest before I noticed the powerhouse lineup of authors presenting (Kirstin Cronn-Mills, Nikki Loftin, Janet Fox, and Geoff Herbach). The topic of setting as character is one a writing pal and I have recently been discussing (read: obsessing over). How do some writers create a sense of place that roots the story and gives the characters context? On the flip side, how can we avoid the excessive description that I keep encountering in books I’m reading (and abandoning) recently?

Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 6.33.03 PM

Details in “The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy” by Nikki Loftin bring each corner and shadow to life. Setting is a sinister character.

I walked into the session just as Kirstin Cronn-Mills talked about the setting of one of her YA books (The Sky Always Hears Me and the Hills Don’t Mind) as “fifty miles from the closest Target.” Brilliant! With six words she immediately conjures the expansiveness and confines of the character’s hometown.

Each of the panelists talked about sensory details, like how the sound of wind changes at the top of a hill. And in some locations, you can’t overlook the weather. In Texas in August, Nikki Loftin said, the weather is a character; it’s there in the dust and the sweat and the sheer oppressiveness of heat.

“Choose details that will reflect an aspect or emotion of the main character,” Janet Fox advised. In Nightingale’s Nest, Loftin created a bargain store — the kind that exist in towns too small to attract big-name big-box stores — called Emperor’s Emporium. She needed the specificity of this store to show the longing of her main character, John, whose family’s poverty is a level below the people who shop there

What about the settings that seem so mundane and repetitive to many of us? The suburbs or the residential housing along interstate corridors? Cronn-Mills sees these as “a blank canvas that you can embroider;” authors can create quirky places where kids want to go.

My notes from this conference session are full of arrows and underlines, along with my own characters’ names and details of their surroundings. In the midst of revising a manuscript, the nuggets I gained from this session are helping me cut and clarify. And that is a glorious thing.

This was my second year attending the AWP conference, and I again was overwhelmed by how helpful, instructive, and motivating these sessions can be. There were 13,000 writers in Minneapolis for the 2015 AWP gathering, and hundreds of sessions on the craft of writing. This is a hard-working and hard-writing group, and workshops were every hour, right through lunch and dinner, and beyond. The focus of the conference isn’t on writing for children — there were only a handful that specifically called out middle-grade — but every presentation I attended had a valuable take away. I want to be a better writer, and this focus on words — rather than marketing and selling — was pretty spectacular.