redblog Talks Children’s/YA adaptations with 5 Minutes for Books’ Jennifer Donovan

by | Jul 28th, 2010 | 4:59PM | Filed under: In My Humble Opinion, Interviews, Movies, Other Bits, Redbox Focus

We’re loving the feedback you’ve given us so far across Facebook, Twitter and, of course, this site about your favorite page-to-screen adaptations. So we’re pretty sure you’ll all be very interested in the chat we had with Jennifer Donovan, the managing editor of 5 Minutes for Books. You might remember that just over a year ago, Jennifer asked for my thoughts about the best and worst in film adaptations — part one of that interview is here, part two is here, and “the leftovers” are here.

Now the tables have turned — I’m interviewing her!  Read on for her unique take on the many different aspects of children’s and young adult (YA) novel adaptations. I bet some of her opinions might surprise you…

Thanks so much for joining me, Jennifer.  So let’s get right into it. In general, do you think it’s a good thing when children’s books are made into movies?

I think that movies are a great way to tell a story.  People like me who love a good story can enjoy it whether it’s in the pages, on the big screen or on the small screen.

It’s much easier to pop in a DVD and be entertained than it is to seek out interesting books that will be a good fit for your child. I think that movie adaptations of great books can bridge that gap and create interest in a book that might not have been there before.

I love anything that might get a child interested in reading.  I don’t know many children who think, “I don’t have to read that next Percy Jackson book, because I know they’ll make a movie out of it.”  Instead, I think that kids who like a movie will want to delve deeper into the series and read ahead or perhaps check out the author’s other books or new series in the same genre.

For kids who struggle with reading, it might be easier to follow a story because they are familiar with the movie, like Kate DiCamillio’s Because of Winn Dixie or The Tale of Despereaux.

Seeing a movie adaptation is also a great way to share in your kids’ interests.  A parent might not be able to read what their kids are reading (although I highly recommend checking out some of their favorite books as a way to connect), but if you watch the movie together, you can discuss more of what they’ve loved in the book, why they like that particular book or series, and what other books remind them of the movie you just saw.

Comparing a book to the movie version is also a great way to encourage critical thinking and observation skills.  Kids can discuss what they liked better in the movie versus the book, what was missing, and which they enjoyed more overall.

Wow, you’ve brought up some extraordinary points that I never considered before.  Now tell me, do you have any feelings about original screenplays that are novelized after the fact — or in other words, when a movie is made into a book?

It generally feels cheesy to me, but specifically for kids’ movies, if a novelization or spin-off of the movie makes a child want to pick up a book, I think it’s done its job.

I was a bookworm growing up, so I didn’t need extra incentive to read, but I loved the movie Grease, and I remember several book tie-ins that I owned, one of which I wish I had in my possession now.  It was a comic book style story.  It had several frames on each page with actual pictures from the movie and word bubbles coming out of the characters’ mouths.  How awesomely classic is that?

Are there any children’s/YA novels that haven’t been made into films yet that you would actually like to see acted out on the big screen?

When I read some books, I do think “this would make an excellent film.”  When I interviewed Julie Andrews, she said that she always pictured The Last of the Great Whangdoodles as a movie musical when she was writing it.  I think that her children’s books are fantastic, and her work on the screen is obviously amazing, so if she thinks it would be wonderful, I tend to believe her.

But that’s a hard question, because I don’t think that there’s anything like the magic of getting lost in a story.  When you read, you picture the action, you imagine the characters.  So I never feel as if a book is incomplete if it doesn’t have a movie attached to it, even if it seems a good fit.

When I’m reading a book, fantasy and magic can still feel like realistic fiction.   Harry Potter was an imaginative, yet realistic, story about some kids at boarding school who happen to be studying magic.  On screen it seems very over-the-top and witchy, so for me, those magical special effects and ghosts obscure the riveting character drama that J.K. Rowling wrote so well.

However, having said all of that, I still can’t wait to see the forthcoming Hunger Games adaptation.

What’s most important for you when it comes to film adaptations — the right cast, sticking to the story versus adding something new to the story… ?

Even when I read over and over again about a character’s features, it might not take hold.  I form my own image in my mind.  So casting a perfect match in looks is not as important to me as capturing that character’s spirit, which I think conveys the spirit of the novel as a whole.

For example, though I love the movie adaptation of Mary Poppins, it wasn’t until I saw it on stage, and read the original book by P.L. Travers that I realized how far off the beloved Mary Poppins on the screen was from Travers’ original character.

Are there any adaptations that you feel had a negative effect on the memory of their source book?

With the case of Mary Poppins, I think the strong impact the film made obscured the original loveliness of the book.  I know people who didn’t like the Broadway show adaptation, which is based on both the movie and the original books, because it departed too far from their image of who Mary Poppins is in the Disney movie.

All right, Jennifer.  We’ve got one last question for you, and it’s a biggie: Can you still enjoy a film if it strayed significantly from its source material?

Yes. I see them as two separate art forms.  While I might not love a movie that I feel departs too far from the story I think a beloved book tells, I have a rule that protects me from absolutely hating it.  I generally don’t see a film adaptation of a book I’ve recently read.  I try to allow at least 6 months or a year so that the details are a little blurry, and I’m not so emotionally invested in my idea of how things “should” be.

I still love the movie version of Mary Poppins, but I’m glad I took the time to uncover the more fanciful and ambiguous heroine that P.L. Travers paints in her books.

Well, Jennifer, hopefully you’ve convinced a few redblog readers to pick up the Travers’ version of Mary Poppins as well.  Thanks so much for sharing your view on film adaptations with us.  It was fun!

Did you like what Jennifer had to say? Well, this doesn’t have to be goodbye! Be sure you check out her site, 5 Minutes for Books.  You can also follow the 5 Minutes for Books crew on Twitter at, or “like” them on Facebook. Further, Jennifer’s personal blog, Snapshot, can be found here… and she also contributes to 5 Minutes for Mom.  Busy lady!

Stay tuned tomorrow for more about the pros and cons of film adaptations — this time I’ll be interviewing 5 Minutes for Books’ Dawn Mooney and believe you me, she’s got some fierce opinions on the matter!

5 Responses to “redblog Talks Children’s/YA adaptations with 5 Minutes for Books’ Jennifer Donovan”

  1. Locke Peterseim
    Locke Peterseim
    Posted on July 28, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    Jennifer, I OWN that Grease novelization tie-in book. In fact, I think I’ve recently seen it kicking around in my old room at my mom’s house. Be happy to sell it to you… for an appropriately ridiculous amount. [Oh wait, I see you were talking about the "foto-play" version -- sorry, I have the actual "novel" version. But I did have "foto-plays" of other movies, like Rocky Horror Picture Show!]

    I was an obsessive reader of movie tie-in novelizations in the early ’80s, especially of sci-fi action films I was too young (or too scared) to actually see in the theaters, like Alan Dean Foster’s novels for Alien and The Thing. And somewhere I have a couple Superman movie novels by Eliot S. Maggin that were marketed as “tie-ins” with Christopher Reeves poster covers, but are actually really great sci-fi novels that had nothing at all to do with the theatrical films.

    And somewhere in boxes are copies of the novelizations of Star Trek: Wrath of Khan, Gremlins, and Poltergeist. I even have as a gag, a copy of the NOVELIZATION of the Coppola Dracula film, which of course was intended to be a faithful adaptation of the Stoker novel.

  2. morninglight mama
    Posted on July 28, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    Oh, Jennifer will definitely be more well-liked than me, since she’s got the wonderful ability to be flexible… :)

    Well done, Jennifer and Erika- much to think about here!

  3. Jennifer@5 Minutes for Books
    Posted on July 29, 2010 at 5:46 am

    Eh–flexible/wishy-washy, it’s a fine line.

    Passion is good Dawn. Can’t wait to see it.

    Locke–I think I had the “Grease Scrapbook” as well, in addition to the album, on vinyl, of course.

  4. Rhonda
    Posted on July 29, 2010 at 11:17 am

    I had that Grease book too! Plus everything else I could buy that was “Grease.” On book adaptations to movies, I agree that they don’t discourage reading. In fact my son first read The Chronicles of Narnia after watching the first movie, and he’s gone on to read the whole series several times now. As far as bad adaptations go, The City of Ember was my biggest disappointment. Both of my kids loved that book, but sadly the movie was a disaster. We are definitely waiting for Hunger Games to become a movie. I really want to see some of the costumes described in it come to life…