Posts tagged ‘authors/illustrators’

From the listservs: movies based on books

Last week someone posted an announcement to YALSA-bk that Asa Butterfield and Chloe Moretz would be playing Hugo and Isabelle in the movie adaptation of THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET. This sparked a long discussion about movies that were based on children’s and YA books, with most people falling into the “movies ruin books” camp.

While the cynic in me tends to agree, I think we have to recognize that a book and a movie are different narrative forms and that because of their own characteristics, each have unique limitations and strengths. While books are capable of telling much more sophisticated stories with subplots and a lot of interior thoughts and development, the visual aspect of movies mean that they can convey emotions that might not be so easily crammed into specific words. And movies are better at juxtaposing different images without commentary, which is more difficult to do in a verbal narrative. While some pointed out that there are kids who see a movie based on a book, don’t like it, and then are reluctant to read the book, I think that there’s still room to enjoy a book after it’s been turned into a movie we don’t like–it doesn’t have to “ruin” the book for us.

Members of the listserv mentioned the seeming increase of children’s and teen’s books being adapted into movies. One librarian said that her sister was in the film business and that it wasn’t that writers and directors and producers were out of ideas, but that they were being conservative and wanted something with a “built in audience.” That is, since so many kids have read the Percy Jackson books, they know they’ll have butts in seats if they make a Percy Jackson movie. One librarian did point out, though, that movie studios have been drastically changing stories from the start, pointing in particular to Mary Poppins and animated Disney movies. This isn’t a new trend–it’s just something we notice more because more books are being adapted.

I finally went to see Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief with my husband this weekend. I’d heard some pretty terrible things about it, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. I was especially pleased that it wasn’t as video game-like as I was expecting: they do receive a map with three different locations that are revealed only when their quest at the previous one is finished, but there was no mine cart/runaway boat/flying-through-the-air-avoiding-objects sequence like it seems a lot of movies for kids contain. I also thought that Percy’s introduction to his true nature and to Camp Half-Blood was much quicker and more natural than it was in the book; the characters in the novel seemed like they were going awfully far out of their way to keep him in the dark for as long as possible. What did bother me about the adaptation, though, was the way Percy’s relationship with his father was much closer and warmer than it was in the book. It seems like that really changes the spirit of the story. I don’t mind the events of the story being a lot different or even certain characters not being present, but I want the spirit of the story to feel the same.

The discussion on YALSA-bk benefitted from an email from Alex Flinn, author of BEASTLY, which has been adapted into a movie that will be in theaters this summer. I actually got to hear Alex Flinn speak at the Hussey-Mayfield Memorial Public Library in Zionsville on Wednesday. She mostly talked about her youth and becoming a writer and what goes into writing a novel and getting it published, but she also touched briefly on having her book adapted into a movie. Her email to the listserv, though, was more specific. She said that at first she was scared exactly because so many movie adaptations haven’t been faithful to their subject material, but that she was lucky to read the screenplay before they started and found that “they pretty much left the plot alone.” She pointed out that there are different levels of changes, saying that she’s not bothered that the main character’s hair color is different (as some fans are), but that “[a]t one point, they’d been talking to an actor who wanted a fairly major change made to the main character’s relationship with his father. That would have bothered me more than hair color.” During her visit in Zionsville, she’d explained that BEASTLY initially came from thinking about what crappy parents both the beauty and the beast from the fairy tale must have had for them to get into their situation, so the beast’s relationship with his father is really important to Flinn–and to the spirit of the story.

I thought the movie adaptation of CORALINE is a good example of where the book and the movie tell similar (but not identical) stories with each being strengthened by the format. While the film changed some of what happened, the intricate stop-motion style was really beautiful and very well-suited to the strange and creepy other world in the story. But the book explores in a way that a film can’t Coraline’s internal state during her adventure. They’re different, but one isn’t necessarily better than the other. And really, we don’t have to pick one over the other, do we? We can enjoy both–if they both deserve it.

Late last year, Walter Kirn, the author of UP IN THE AIR, was interviewed by NPR about the movie adaptation of his book. He talked about how the film version was necessarily different from the book:

There are two different forms of storytelling: Novels tend to come from the inside of a character and movies tend to look at them from the outside in relation to others in their world. And so, I fully understood that for this book to make it onto film it had to be sort of opened up, unfolded. […] And the finished product, though it bears the distinct genetic imprint of the book, is quite different in some details and yet I am entirely pleased with it. […] [T]he novel is a sort of a piece of paper and the movie has made it into a paper airplane. That suggested the movie is more complex than the book, which I don’t think it is, actually. I mean, you’re able to do things in novels: introduce subplots, other characters, thematic layers and so on, in a way that you simply can’t in a movie. A movie really has to choose its battles. And most adaptations end up having to really edit out a lot of the book and bring forward those elements that they think play dramatically. In this case, a whole new character had to be introduced. A sort of sidekick had to be given to a lonely hero who spends most of the time in the novel observing and thinking about his world. But now we had to give him a chance to talk about his world.

The addition of a completely new character is a huge change to be made when adapting a book into a movie, but Kirn recognized that because so much of the “action” in the book actually went on in the main character’s mind and reflected his internal, personal changes, a film version would have to externalize a lot of that. And despite this huge change, he thinks that the addition of that character and the interactions she has with the protagonist are the source of a lot of humor in the movie.

I really liked his metaphors for the way a book and its movie adaptation are related:

You know, here’s how adaptation works – almost everything in the movie is in the book in some form. But it’s as though the deck has been completely reshuffled and some of the cards have been assigned different values, some of the fours have been made into jacks and some of the jacks have been made into twos. And it’s as though, you know, a new poker hand has been made out of these cards that were dealt in the book. And yet the book and the movie to me are both obviously members of the same family. They’re like non-identical twins. You see the nose. You see the ears. You see the stature and the voice in the way of moving, and you go, yes, these are the same creature in some respect, but they are two different versions of the creature.

I still feel ambivalent about movie adaptations. I don’t hate them as much as a lot of librarians seem to (I do understand that it must be hard to see something you love changed a lot!) because I think that a movie can and often must tell a different story, and that movies can do things that a book can’t. And honestly, sometimes a story just needs tightening, and the time limitations of a movie can do that. But it does seem like things are often unnecessarily changed or that the spirit of the story is lost. I want to remain hopeful about future adaptations, though, because some have turned out to be so good (for example, Premiere.com has a list of ten movies that are better than the books on which they’re based–in their opinion, at least). I also hope that we can take even the bad film adaptations and use them as an opportunity to get more kids reading–or at least discussing the media they do consume.

March 21, 2010 at 9:19 PM Leave a comment

The Chinese cover of THE GRAVEYARD BOOK

On Sunday Neil Gaiman tweeted about the Chinese cover of THE GRAVEYARD BOOK.

The Chinese cover of Neil Gaiman's THE GRAVEYARD BOOK. A black circle with the white silhouette of a boy's face dominates and moving in a diagonal line from the lower left to the upper right corner are swirls, touches of color, and ghosts. The extreme bottom left corner shows a black grave marker with a white cross.

The Chinese cover of Neil Gaiman's THE GRAVEYARD BOOK

I love the selective use of color and the texture. It’s interesting to see what got carried over from the American cover, most notably the silhouette of Bod (confession: it took me ages to see that in the headstone). Actually, check out all of the different covers at Gaiman’s official site. Some are more graveyardy, some are more Victorian, some are more fairy tale, some are more spooky. What a great variation. I especially like the Italian cover. Although the one from Poland is pretty great, too. Honestly, I think the American cover is sort of boring in comparison!

Anyway, back to China. In the summer of 2007, the Chinese government banned the depiction of skeletons in the MMORPG World of Warcraft. The Chinese company licensed to operate WoW in China complied, adding flesh to the undead characters and replacing the bodies of players with graves. Given this, I think the Chinese cover of THE GRAVEYARD BOOK is even more interesting. The ghosts shown are cartoonish, very different from the spooky figures on the Polish cover, and there is no knife like the one in this sketch Dave McKean did for the original cover selection process or even the Italian cover.

But what is curiously present is a cross on the grave marker in the lower left corner. While restrictions on religion have loosened since the 1980s and Christianity may be on the rise in China, religion in general is required to operate within strict boundaries. Both the Catholic church and the Protestant church in China are run by government-approved organizations and worship or Bible study outside of those approved churches is illegal. One of the girls from my residence hall in college spent a summer evangelizing in China and had to be very careful about what she included in her emails home. (Please note I am not supporting illegal proselytizing in China, just mentioning it as something that happens.)

While THE GRAVEYARD BOOK takes place in England, and in a Christian cemetery specifically, I was still surprised by the presence of a cross on the cover. Are you?

March 4, 2010 at 9:41 PM 1 comment

Reflections on ALA Annual

One month from today I’ll be headed to Portland for PLA’s 2010 National Conference! I’m really looking forward to more opportunities for professional development and meeting other cool librarians from around the country. In anticipation of PLA 2010, I thought I’d reflect on the highlights of my experience at ALA Annual 2009, which was the first conference I ever attended.

I was really lucky last year; it was my first year in the SLIS program and ALA was in Chicago, so I was able to attend at the student rate, not pay airfare, and not pay for a hotel (I have friends in Northwest Indiana so I stayed with them and took the train into town)–all of which made the conference affordable. And it was such a fantastic experience! By last summer my experience in actual libraries was pretty limited: most of what I knew I knew from class readings, homework, and discussion. Going to ALA showed me how much more libraries could be.

My first day, I attended YALSA’s Genre Galaxy, which covered different genres of YA lit: what makes them appealing, what books are out there, and how to sell them to teens or program around them. But the best part of this preconference were the authors who spoke to us about their work, including James Kennedy (whose appearance was all done in-character and involved local teens re-enacting a scene from his book–Elizabeth Bird of Fuse #8 did writeups and posted videos here, here, and here), Dom Testa, Simone Elkeles, David Lubar (whom I also got to speak with during a break–he’s such a cool dude!), Patrick Jones, Libba Bray, and Holly Black. Honestly, I was a little bit star-struck after a day of hearing these YA lit rockstars talk–and getting to talk to them one-on-one during breaks! The giddiness of being able to meet people whose work I enjoyed so much really impressed on me how great it’d be to be able to bring that experience to teens and children through author visits.

I also attended a bunch of sessions that blew me away with how incredibly awesome and proactive libraries could be. Scott Nicholson talked about gaming in libraries and did a great job explaining why gaming is good aside from just the way it brings kids into the library, and he explained the importance of being able to back up gaming in your library with your mission statement. Different librarians also talked about how they’d implemented gaming in their libraries–and it ranged from something as small as just having a teen-organized gaming collection in a tiny public library to a huge program with classes and guest speakers on how to create games at NYPL.

I also attended the panel discussion on Teen Advisory Boards and again had my mind blown (see my earlier post about my class presentation on TABs). The only Teen Advisory Board I’d seen in action was just a group of kids the librarian could bounce ideas off of. I’d never even considered how TABs could be harnessed to make a library better and give teens leadership opportunities, or how they could very nearly run a teen department with the right development work from the librarian. More than any other session, this panel discussion got me really excited about being able to work in a library and really make an impact with what I did there.

I sat in on a presentation on sex in YA literature that challenged notions we all have about teens and sexuality and the books they read. Laura Ruby‘s talk about writing for children and then writing for teens and having her books challenged gave interesting insight into the author’s side of things, and Marty Klein did a great job of putting things in a historical and psychological context and examining the state of teen sexuality and teen sex education today.

I also went to the panel discussion on graphic novels that included a representative from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Neil Gaiman, Terry Moore, and Craig Thompson. Again, it was interesting to hear from the creators of works that get challenged, works we feel we need to defend. The consensus seemed to be that they don’t set out to be controversial; they just write and draw the story they want to tell and it’s only after it’s been released that the work starts to get categorized and analyzed and challenged and loved. They also did a good job of making the point that just because it’s a graphic novel doesn’t mean it’s for children–and that’s something we need to keep in mind as librarians. I also enjoyed their conversation about how graphic novels differ from other media like film or text.

Beyond the sessions I attended (and there were more–those were just the ones that I found particularly inspiring or interesting), I had time to check out all of the vendors on the convention floor. I got some neat free stuff including books and bags and pins and a Polaroid of me hugging the Cat in the Hat and ARCs (see my earlier post on ARCs)–including one of CATCHING FIRE, which was fantastic and exciting. Especially since this was my first conference, this part really was overwhelming at times. There are just so many people and so many booths and so much stuff everywhere. I was shielded in part by not actually having any sort of purchasing power, and it did give me a good idea of what’s out there for when I am working in a library and go to conferences representing my institution.

Part of visiting vendors was being able to meet authors and illustrators and get signed copies of their books. I got to meet Mo Willems and tell him what a fan I was and have him sign a few books; I met E. Lockhart and briefly discussed Frankie’s mix of psychopath and awesome while she signed my copy of THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU-BANKS (now out in paperback with a much more boring cover); and I not only met and received signed books from MT Anderson but was able to have a surprisingly long conversation with him. He turned out to be a super-nice guy and I really wish I’d been able to talk with him even longer. I also ran into Lori Ann Grover of readergirlz right before the Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder banquet and had a chance to learn more about how she started readergirlz and all of the great things they’ve done so far.

And finally, I got to attend the Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder banquet and the Michael L. Printz Award reception. The Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder event was so elegant and the acceptance speeches were moving and inspiring. I especially loved Ashley Bryan‘s story of growing up black and wanting to illustrate and his energetic, expressive group recitations of Langston Hughes’s poetry.

While the Printz reception was a more casual affair, it felt more personal, too. I enjoyed hearing from the honor books’ authors as well as the winner, and I especially liked the chance to mingle with the honorees afterward.

My first conference experience was a little bit overwhelming and exhausting (I really packed in every activity I could while I was there), but more than that it was incredibly inspiring and energizing. Through the sessions I attended and the people I met, I got to see what kinds of rockin’ awesome things librarians are doing. I came away from the experience feeling really excited about my profession and really motivated to learn more and do more.

So with PLA quickly approaching, I’m looking forward to being able to re-energize myself in my work, especially in a more focused framework since PLA will be about public libraries specifically, and I’m looking forward to everything I’ll learn and be inspired by and inspired to do. The one way in which I felt like my ALA experience was lacking was that I didn’t get to meet as many new people as I wanted, and I’m hoping to do that at PLA–in just one month!

February 24, 2010 at 4:19 PM Leave a comment

Getting to Know Mo Willems

I recently watched Getting to Know Mo Willems, a short video by Scholastic and Weston Woods about Mo Willems and his work. Last spring I wrote a short paper about Mo Willems for my Materials for Youth class and I’ve read all of his books, so it was fun to get more insight into his creative process and to see him drawing and to see the little sketch book out of which the Pigeon grew.

When he was talking about the art for the Knuffle Bunny books, I thought it was interesting that he took photographs of his neighborhood but then edited them to take out the trash cans and the air conditioners and to replace missing letters on signs. He said that he didn’t want the photographs to reflect how places actually look, but how they felt–and I think that’s one of the strengths of those books, how well they capture a sense of place.

I think the thing I love most about Mo Willems’s books are his characters’ facial expressions and body language. In the Pigeon books, so much is conveyed just with a raised eyebrow or a lowered lid. And especially in the Elephant and Piggie books where the vocabulary is so limited, so much of the narrative relies on what the illustrations convey. Piggie and Gerald look excited, exasperated, dubious, frightened, and gleeful all with a few small changes in pencil strokes.

In the video, Mo talks a little bit about how the Elephant and Piggie books are just plain fun to draw, but that he also really enjoys the challenge of writing Easy Reader books with fixed vocabularies of about 50 words. In fact, his first Geisel Award acceptance speech (read a blog post with the speech or just read the speech) is done with a limited vocabulary and simple grammar and hints at the difficulties in writing an Easy Reader book, but also shows how you can still be clever within those constraints.

My first week at the synagogue I was surprised by a group of preschoolers who had arrived for a storytime I didn’t know I was going to be giving. Still pretty unfamiliar with the collection, I grabbed two of the Pigeon books off of the shelf and read them with total abandon, yelling and gesturing and whispering and fake-crying. The kids totally loved it, and I think the teachers were impressed with the new librarian’s enthusiasm. I’ve grown to know the collection better in the months I’ve worked there, but I can always count on Mo to captivate an audience of otherwise wiggly kids.

I was lucky enough to meet Mo at ALA last summer (I was the first in line!) and have him sign a few of my books. Honestly, I was a little giddy finally getting to meet the man behind the best books I’d read in years–and that experience really impressed upon me how connecting with authors (and illustrators) through author visits or even Skype can be so inspiring for kids of all ages and can intensify their love for what they’re reading. It’s really important for me to be able to take that great experience I was lucky enough to have as an up-and-coming professional at a conference and find a way to give it to the young people I’m hoping to serve because man, meeting Mo (and MT Anderson, too) was the highlight of my ALA Annual experience.

For more Mo, check out Mo Willems’s website, his doodles blog, or follow the Pigeon on Twitter.

February 12, 2010 at 4:37 PM Leave a comment