In this screen-dominated world, it can be hard to get even bookish kids reading. Not to mention, so many kids’ publications—from the classic to the commercial—have been made into hard-to-resist, CGI-animated blockbusters. How can we get our children lost and found in the world of literature?
While it may be tempting to recommend reading the book James and the Giant Peach if your child liked the watching the movie James and the Giant Peach, I find that sort of obvious pairing encourages too much comparison between page and screen. Here are some time-tested classic books, in the spirit and style of popular movies, that even reluctant young readers may warm up to.
If your child liked the movie UP, try The Twenty-One Balloons, by William Pene du Bois
UP is one of those excellent movies that appeals to both girls and boys, young and old, and is full of far-fetched ideas, sly humor, and social commentary. The same holds true for Newbery Medal–winning The Twenty-One Balloons. It’s the tale of a professor who sets out on an unthinkable journey, only to have his aircraft punctured by a seagull and subsequently crash on the island of Krakatoa, where he discovers twenty families sharing the wealth of a secret diamond mine. Just like UP, this book is riveting from beginning to end, even without surround sound.
If your child liked Ponyo, try The Fledgling, by Jane Langton
I love Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo so much. It’s a wonderfully weird film about a goldfish who wants to become a human girl and ends up doing just that with the help of a boy. It’s also about the environment. And following your calling. Langton’s The Fledgling tackles these same issues, with a bit of a reversal. Georgie, a young girl with a vivid imagination, wants nothing more than to fly; she ends up befriending a goose and having her wildest dream come true. Not to mention, this celebrated classic is set to the background of Thoreau’s “Walden Pond,” and instills a deep love of nature. These two masterpieces may seem different, but at heart they teach the important lessons of being yourself, following your fantasies, and celebrating this wild, wild world.
If your kids liked The Lego Movie, try Fortunately, the Milk, by Neil Gaiman
It’s hard to get my son really into a book. But Legos? And a movie about Legos? No problem. Fortunately, the Milk also appeals to the active, rambunctious sort. Just like The Lego Movie, this fun, well-written selection has lots of hilarious pictures, a fast-paced plot, more variety than the Smithsonian, and a snappy length. The only thing missing is a catchy soundtrack. (Which for most grownups is a good thing.)
If your kids liked Toy Story, try The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams
There are so many things to love about the Toy Story trilogy, but I think, deep down, what everyone cherishes most is the idea that our toys have feelings and lives and are moving around when we’re not there. In my opinion, The Velveteen Rabbit is the original toy story—teaching the power of love, the beauty of magic, and the importance of Kleenex. I don’t know what makes me cry more: when Andy gives away Buzz and Woody or when that rabbit hops off into the garden.
If your kids liked Fantastic Mr. Fox, try The Borrowers, by Mary Norton
Fantastic Mr. Fox takes all the quirkiness of Roald Dahl and all the quirkiness of Wes Anderson and results in a visual delight that kids and adults alike just have to love. This stop-motion film is so fun to watch, primarily because it investigates the secret, underground, adventurous world of animals. I loved this movie for the same reasons I loved The Borrowers growing up. The “Borrowers” (aka, the tiny Clock family) live under the kitchen floor of an old English manor, where they’ve created a life by borrowing all the minuscule things they need. All is well until they’re spotted by one of the humans, and their future becomes uncertain. This delightful read is also illustrated, and especially good for reluctant readers whose attention spans demand a special breed of creativity.
What book would you give to a reluctant young reader?