Blogger Elisabeth Gattullo Marrocolla

First the Newbery, then the Cinema!

The Newbery Award, over its long history, has produced many enduring classics. But just how enduring are those classics when they are transferred from the page to the big screen? As my library plans our next season of R.W.D. (Read, Watch, Discuss) we took a look at some Newbery movies to see how they stack up to their literary predecessors.

2003's Holes

I think my favorite Newbery-award-winner-turned-big-screen-phenomenon is Louis Sachar’s Holesthough I will admit a bias: I am a huge fan of the book, and think it is one of best-plotted middle grades around. It helps tremendously that Sachar himself wrote the screenplay, an honor afforded to very few authors. Even J.K. Rowling didn’t get to adapt her own books! Any adjustments to the plot seem to flow organically and make sense. The cast is also excellent: Shia LaBeouf, whatever has become of him since, was magnetically watchable as the down-on-his-luck hero, and the always charming Dule Hill added extra pathos to Sam, making his demise even more tragic. If you’re looking for a great Newbery book-to-film adaptation, look no further.

terabithiaBridge to Terabithia is another classic Newbery-winner that was adapted into a well-regarded film, in this case, 2007’s version starring a young Josh Hutcherson (Peeta!). The trailer for this film made fans of the novel anxious when it was first released, as it seemed to over-emphasize to “magic” of Terabithia while containing almost none of the real-world issues that continue to resonate with readers today. It took me a long time to see the movie because of those fears, but when I finally did, I was pleasantly surprised by how faithful of an adaptation it was. The performances from the  young actors are great and the film manages to evoke the same emotions the book does.  When I was in school, we watched the 1985 TV Movie version, which has a decidedly more low-budget aesthetic but still holds up as a decent version of this beloved novel.

Then there are less successful adaptations. The Dark is Rising, which became The Seeker: The Dark is Rising in 2007, is notoriously terrible, with a 14% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and Time Out London noting that Susan Cooper’s fans “…are appalled by what they see as this dumbed-down version.” It stands as a good example of how not to adapt a beloved and award-winning fantasy series.

What are your favorite Newbery movies? Are there any you’d love to see on the big screen?


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