This year, even though we haven’t been able to go to actual movie theaters, we’re still seeing plenty of great movies from home. Yay for film companies adapting! And yay for me spending less than $50 to get everyone popcorn!
If you’re big on reading the book first in your family, here are some movies you should go ahead and add to your reading list before they’re turned into movies this year. Some have just released or are coming very quickly — one even premiering tonight — so start reading fast!
Or, hey, the way 2020 is going, you may have until next year. Release dates are all subject to change, like everything else in our lives right now.
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2020 movies adapted from children’s novels
Starting tonight, August 21, you can catch the film adaptation of Katherine Applegate’s beloved The One and Only Ivan on Disney+. CMP’s Lisa tells me it’s her son’s favorite (and most influential) book he’s ever read.
If you haven’t read the Newberry-winning book, it’s told from the point of view of Ivan, a gorilla living in a small enclosure in a shopping mall. A new friendship causes him to see his situation in a new light, and the story that ensues is both beautiful and brave. The movie has a power-packed cast including Angelina Jolie, Bryan Cranston, Danny Devito, and Helen Mirren. You can watch The One and Only Ivan trailer now to get more of a sense of whether this is a good one for your family.
(Full disclosure: my kids tried reading the book around age 11, but it was too sad for their sensitive, animal-loving hearts.)
Updated to add: Disney has released an activity packet (PDF) for kids to complete as they watch the movie (or read the book), which is a great resource for those of us schooling from home right now too!
I have such fond childhood memories of the mysterious and exotic world of The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett, like so many of you, I’m sure. I will admit however, I’m a huge fan of Agnieszka Holland’s 1993 film version with that masterful, memorable soundtrack; but if anything can get me excited about a remake it’s Colin Firth on the marquee.
In case you don’t remember the story, it’s about two fairly sullen kids: Mary, an orphaned girl who moves to her uncle’s estate, and Colin, her sickly cousin, who’s convinced himself he can’t walk. Mary discovers an abandoned, secret garden (thus, the name), and as they tend it back to life, the children come alive too.
I expect it the movie to be magical. You can rent it now on Amazon, Apple TV, and a few other streaming services.
If your kids like fantasy and your’e hoping to get them hooked on a new series of books, then Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke is a terrific one to try. Especially if your kids loved How to Train Your Dragon. It is a fun-filled, warm-hearted story about the true meaning of home…with dragons! It’s charming and lighthearted, with some serious storylines too, making it just right for your 8-12 year old tween.
You can watch the Dragon Rider animated movie trailer on YouTube, featuring an impressive voice cast cast including Patrick Stewart, Thomas Brodie-Sangster (our kids love him), and Felicity Jones, who blew us away playing RBG in On the Basis of Sex. The feature released earlier this month in Germany, and we’re waiting for a US streaming release date.
I hesitated putting The Witches by Roald Dahl in the kids’ book category, as it’s a seriously dark book — even by Roald Dahl standards. Still our older kids adore it. It’s been made as a movie times over (most notably in 1990 starring Anjelica Houston) but the new adaption direc4ed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Anne Hathaway with Octavia Spencer as Grandmother is likely to be even scarier than ever, thanks to much-improved CGI in the last 30 years.
If you’re not familiar, the story is about a young boy who goes to live with his Norwegian grandmother after his parents die in a car crash. She tells him stories about secret societies of witches who hate children and want to kill them. Ultimately, he comes face to face with the Grand High Witch, devises a plan with his grandmother to get rid of her for good.
Like I said, it’s dark. But if your kids like dark, then this will be a fun one for them. It’s scheduled to release in October 2020, just in time for Halloween. When we will probably be watching more scary movies than trick-or-traating, sigh.
2020 movies and TV shows adapted from YA novels
Back in March — you know, when the world stopped because of Coronavirus? — the quirky, sweet YA favorite novel Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli was released as a movie starring Grace VanderWaal. (You may know her as the cute ukulele-playing girl from America’s Got Talent about four years ago. There’s a good chance you missed the film (we did) because, you know, Coronavirus.
The book is a delightful, meaningful ode to nonconformity and has been a massive bestseller for years. It’s about a new girl in an Arizona school who captivates everyone with her bright, bold personality. Soon, the students start turning against what they originally loved in her, and the boy who has fallen for her begs her to just be normal. You can watch the Stargirl trailer on YouTube, and stream the movie now on Disney+.
If your teen likes intense, heartbreaking, inspiring romances, then they’ll love Words on Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton. It’s the story of Adam, a teenage boy diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He enrolls in a clinical trial for a new drug, as he starts to fall in love. As the drug fails, he wonders how long he can keep his diagnosis from his girlfriend.
I haven’t read the book yet myself, but the general consensus in reviews is that it is a frank, funny, brutal, hopeful, and realistic story, without the contrived ending you might have expected.
The realistic, first-person POV that you can see now in the Words on Bathroom Walls trailer is powerful, and will likely provide an important perspective on what it’s like to live with schizophrenia. We’ve always believed these types of stories are important ways for kids (and adults) to develop compassion and understanding for those living with mental illness. But you’ll need to read quickly, because the movie releases tonight, Friday, August 21.
My teenage son is hooked on dystopian novels like Hunger Games, Ready Player One, and Ender’s Game, so last year I challenged him to read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. He found it challenging — it is almost 100 years old after all — but loved the complicated, dark, and vivid story about technology, authoritarianism, and free will.
I’m excited to see that it’s been reimagined as a TV series now streaming on Peacock, the new streaming channel of NBCUniversal, because I think a series will do more justice to the complex concepts here than a two hour movie.
If you want an educational take on it, ask your kids to pay attention to what the showrunners have changed from Huxley’s original novel to the TV series and discuss it.
Frank Herbert’s Dune is one of the classic must-read YA novels for any kid interested in sci-fi. A much simplified explanation of the plot is that Paul lives on the planet Arrakis, where his family is tasked to protect the powerful sand. A traitorous act brings about adventure, political intrigue, environmental awareness and more. If you’re looking for a collector’s edition to own, I would purchase this edition of Dune, with a foreword by Neil Gaiman.
The book has been made into movies multiple times — the 1984 version introduced many of us to Kyle McLaughlin — and the 2020 film casts Timothée Chalamat in the lead role, with the supporting cast including Zendaya, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem and so many other incredible actors. (Liz tells me she’d watch Javier Bardem read the phone book.)
It will take two movies to cover the entire story in the novel, and the official first-look trailer of Dune looks incredible, if mostly just stills from the set. Unfortunately we’ll have to wait until December 18 to see it in theaters (fingers crossed), but on the plus side that gives you more time to pick up the novel.
The concept of Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan is simple and sweet: Lily leaves a red notebook on a bookstore shelf, waiting for the right guy to find it and complete the challenges inside. It leads to an adventure all over the New York City, as the notebook is left full of secrets, dreams, and more. It’s as wonderful as you’d think, coming from the authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist.
The book was picked up by Netflix as a romantic comedy half-hour series made by The Stranger Things team, written by Joe Tracz (who also wrote the wonderful Series of Unfortunate Events as well as popular teen musicals Be More Chill and The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical) and produced by…Nick Jonas. It will star Austin Abrams and Midori Francis in the title roles, and it will likely come out on Netflix around the holidays later this year.
Bonus: The 2020 movie adapted from Shakespeare
Stephen Spielberg is remaking the classic musical West Side Story this year, and I can’t wait to see it. First, I’m thrilled that Spielberg cast Latina actress Rachel Zegler — currently a high school student from New Jersey — as Maria. It’s a much-needed fix from the problematic casting of the 1961 version, which starred Natalie Wood as Maria.
Also, Spielberg brings back Rita Moreno, the original film’s Anita, as Valentina! Whoo! If only we didn’t have to wait until December 18 for the theatrical release.
Of course, the story of the two lovers from rival gangs is based on Romeo & Juliet, and I think it presents a great opportunity to challenge your kids to read the play first. If they’re up for it, I recommend the “No Fear Shakespeare” version, which lays the original text next to a modern translation.
Another idea: before they even read the play, have them watch Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 Romeo + Juliet starring Leonardo DiCaprio & Claire Dane. It’s an absolute trip, and very modern, if more than 20 years old now. (Whoa.)
My English teacher friends say that when teaching Shakespeare, they always recommend kids watch the movie first if they can’t see the play; it helps them understand what’s happening in the written version so much better. Give it a shot.