For a good chunk of the moviegoing population, 'Ramona' will bring back childhood memories of reading about her misadventures in a series that included 'Ramona Quimby, Age 8,' 'Ramona and Her Mother,' "Beezus and Ramona' and 'Ramona Forever.' And the film's arrival in theaters reminds us of a handful of other beloved children's books that should have their day in Hollywood -- or be treated to a thoroughly modern reboot of their original adaptations to film. Following in 'Ramona''s footsteps, these are a few of the books that savvy screenwriters might want to look to for their next bout of youthful inspiration. This Friday, a quirky, accident-prone eight-year-old named Ramona Quimby is making her big-screen debut in 'Ramona and Beezus.' Based on the character in Beverly Cleary's best-selling book series, 'Ramona' features an adorable girl who's often misunderstood, but who charms the pants off the adults around her even when it seems all is lost (such as when the kitchen is burning, or a car gets paint all over it, or the family home is in jeopardy). Seriously, though: who could resist that cute smile, or irrepressible spirit?
For a good chunk of the moviegoing population, 'Ramona' will bring back childhood memories of reading about her misadventures in a series that included 'Ramona Quimby, Age 8,' 'Ramona and Her Mother,' "Beezus and Ramona' and 'Ramona Forever.' And the film's arrival in theaters reminds us of a handful of other beloved children's books that should have their day in Hollywood -- or be treated to a thoroughly modern reboot of their original adaptations to film. Following in 'Ramona''s footsteps, these are a few of the books that savvy screenwriters might want to look to for their next bout of youthful inspiration.
Forget 'Freaks and Geeks.' Lois Lowry's uber-nerdy heroine is the ultimate awkward teen -- minus the part where she becomes the swan when it's all over. The first book in the series, 'Anastasia Krupnik,' was published in 1979, and followed its namesake through the mundanities of adolescence, from warts to popularity and boys to depression. Lowry's series was remarkable -- and much adored -- because it didn't shy away from the nitty-gritty of a girl's growing pains. Instead, Lowry tackles the routine hurdles of being 12, from self-consciousness to crushes, throughout the series.
Lowry added titles like 'Anastasia, at Your Service' and 'Anastasia's Chosen Career' until 1995, when she wrote the final installment, 'Anastasia Absolutely.' With nine 'Anastasia' books in total, any movie would have a wealth of moments -- from the hilarious to the poignant -- from which to choose. No, Anastasia may not spark a rumored audition-war in the way of Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander, but with a brainy side and a major personal quest, she'd be a great role for any young starlet who wants to prove not only that she's unafraid of scaling back on the glamor, but that she can really act.
'In The Night Kitchen'
It doesn't matter that last year's adaptation of 'Where the Wild Things Are' was slow, depressing, and largely lacking a plot. The hype for Spike Jonze's adaptation of the Maurice Sendak classic was huge, and the box office success only confirmed the mass-nostalgia. In 1970, seven years after 'Wild Things' was published, Sendak wrote 'In the Night Kitchen,' a controversial little story that similarly followed the dream world of a little boy. Unlike his earlier work, however, in which Max imagines sailing to an island full of wild creatures, 'Kitchen' was highly controversial, mostly because its hero, Mickey, is naked for most of the book as he gets mixed up in a baker's batter after dark.
But the visible genitalia is just the, ahem, tip of the iceberg: While Sendak later denied weaving sexual innuendo into the story (sticky liquids flow freely, while some critics believed there were suggestive shapes in the drawings), he did acknowledge that the mustachioed bakers and their oven were meant to evoke the Holocaust. A movie edition of 'Night Kitchen,' then, would be a must-see for any self-respecting indie film fan -- and a hot audition for any young actor with a penchant for exhibitionism.
'Island of the Blue Dolphins'
Wild animals, isolation, independence, adventure: 'Island of the Blue Dolphins' has it all. Published in 1960, the book is based on the real story of a Native American girl names Karana who's left behind on her island with her brother after a ship brings the rest of their family and tribe to the mainland. Soon, her brother (spoiler alert!) is killed by a pack of feral dogs, and Karana is alone to fend for herself. Not only does 'Island' promote an 'Avatar'-ian message about the value of Mother Nature, but it's also is all about girl power, as Karana takes up traditionally male tasks like hunting and fishing for survival, as well as building her shelter, finding drinking water and entertaining herself in the absence of, say, a neighbor.
'Island' was adapted for the big screen in 1964, and starred Celia Kaye ('Adam's Rib,' 'Big Wednesday') as the brave child. Now, more than 46 years since the movie version arrived, it's about time for a modern update. Besides, a young heroine who's that badass deserves a new generation of fans -- especially now that James Cameron has trained audiences to hug a few trees and befriend the natives.
'Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret'
Sure, Diablo Cody may be working on adapting the sassy 'Sweet Valley High' series for the big screen, but Judy Blume's 1970 young adult novel dealt with less glamorous realities of female adolescence. 'Margaret' centers on a teenage girl from a mixed-religious background who's trying to reconcile her dual identity, while forging one for herself. As she wrestles with these heavy questions, she's struggling with the less philosophical side of being on the cusp of adulthood -- like puberty, boys, female sanitary products and, yes, buying a bra for the first time.
Apart from its raw realities, Blume's book has a solid status in the annals of popular culture: 'Margaret' has inspired everything from a 'South Park' episode to rock song titles to, most recently, Chelsea Handler's 2008 best-seller 'Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea.' With that kind of following, a movie version of 'Margaret' is nearly guaranteed to go gangbusters at the box office.
'The Boxcar Children'
Every kid dreams of life without Mom and Dad -- but probably fears the real thing. In Gertrude Chandler Warner's story, which was fist published in 1924, four siblings get to live the pre-pubescent dream of roaming freely, just until the going gets a little too tough. 'Boxcar' follows the their adventures after they run away from their orphanage to live in a boxcar. Parent-less living is all fun and games, however, until little Violet gets too sick for her brothers to handle. But not to worry! Turns out the sibs have a wealthy and benevolent grandpa who takes them in -- but not without installing their red boxcar in the backyard, just for fun. In the decades following Chandler's original book, other authors added their own books to the series, which featured the sibs' adventures in their grandpa's neighborhood, once they were safe and sound.
Which children's books do you think would make good movies?