Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 8, 2020

Why Chapter Books and Middle Grades Books Make Great Movies

Why Hollywood Loves Chapter Books and Middle Grade Novels

In my last post, my young friend Gus and I wrote about twists in Middle Grade novels (and some Chapter Books), now I’d like to explore why so many of these books get made into movies. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books (which move from middle grade level to young adult level as the characters age and the themes mature) obviously come to mind. (Just for incentive, last year Rowling was again the world’s richest author, and she ranked 746 on the list of the richest people in the world. Not too shabby for a writer whose first work (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) was rejected somewhere between 12-22 times by publishers).

Everyone’s favorite wizardry student isn’t the only middle grade character to come to life on the big screen.

Some other examples from recent years include Philip Ardagh’s Eddie Dickens Series, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events series, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, Jeff Kinney’s the Wimpy Kid books, and brilliant stand alones like Coraline by Neil Gaiman.  

Not only are these wonderful examples of chapter book and middle grade writing, they translate well cinematically and are financially successful at the box office.

One real possibility for the surge of these middle-grade-to-movie adaptations is that this is the golden age of middle grade writing–with an abundance of brilliant writing for the 8-12 year old set. And it sells. The New York Times Bestseller List always includes many middle grade novels (in 2018, for examples 10 of the 44 bestsellers were for tweens), so many that the New York Times recently started a new list just for those books. So more quality middle grade writing means more movies based on middle grade novels. Generally, adapting bestselling novels into blockbuster movies is big business making big money these days, which may explain why middle grade novels pay so well, with good ones often having bidding wars at auction. 

Middle grade novels and chapter books also lend themselves well to serialization, another factor that hooks into a movie industry driven by sequels. In fact most of the movie adaptations already mentioned are from serialized books. Here are some more that are either in production or should be: the beloved Magic Tree House series, by Mary Pope Osborne, Rachel Renee Russell’s Dork Diaries (which is more Tween), and Middle School Worst Years series by James Patterson (also Tween).


The subject matter and tropes of middle grade novels seems to be naturally cinematic holding great appeal for authors, editors, publishers, readers, and movie goers.  You have the adventures (Chirp by Kate Messner), animals (When You Trap a Tiger

by Tae Keller), crushes (Hillary Homzie’s Swirl novels), diversity (The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert), identity (Ana on the Edge by A.J. Sass), sports (Lupe Wong Won’t Dance by Donna Barba Higuera), ghosts (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs), pirates, fairies (Celia and the Fairies

by Karen McQuestion), zombies (Diary of a Middle School Zombie books by Zack Zombie), history (The Finest Hours (True Rescue Series) by Michael J Tougias and Casey Sherman), biography (The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander), art, and mythology.  Middle grade is coincidentally also the age at which some kids can handle scarier thrills.  Any of these amazing books would lend itself easily to the movie screen.

Point of view is another element contributing to the compatibility of middle grade writing with box office hit. Oftentimes, middle grade fiction uses third-person point of view, which aligns nicely with a camera lens’s ability to see many different points of view. Think of it like this: your book is a camera and boom mic trained on your characters, reporting everything they say and do—but not necessarily what they think. Writing a middle grade novel like a movie would make it easier for it to make the jump to the big screen. While this style of narration is largely a product of our modern age, it is particularly well-suited to books aimed at tween readers.  

Middle grade novels offer great flexibility when it comes to cinematic versions. Because they kind of hover in that middle ground between kids books and teenagers books, they can be rendered in dramatically different ways: live action (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl or Jessica Darling’s It List by Megan McCafferty), animated (Coraline by Neil Gaiman, The Tale of Despereaux by Kate Dicamillo), or an interesting cross (Wimpy Kid).

Thank you Mira for sharing your this interesting article and your expertise with us. 

Tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Very interesting!

    Like

  2. they really do, somehow they easily crossover

    Like

  3. What’s a typical advance for MG or YA?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Makes me want to follow up on a MG idea…..

    Like

  5. Terrific list of books for examples…but isn’t THE UNDEFEATED a picture book, not CB or MG?

    Like

  6. Love this post…thanks for sharing this Mira!

    Like


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