An image of a selection of books that have been turned into films and TV on a dark blue background with pink film clapperboards

Image: Victoria Ibbetson/Penguin

Matilda by Roald Dahl & Quentin Blake (1988)

Matilda Wormwood’s parents may not show her a lot of love, but readers of Roald Dahl’s classic will instantly find a place in their hearts for this special little girl. Matilda is a child prodigy – not that her selfish parents or bullying headteacher Miss Trunchbull have noticed. Luckily, the young girl has caught the attention of her wonderful teacher Miss Honey who takes Matilda under her wing and nurtures her talents, with some magical moments along the way. This hilarious and heart-warming story was adapted for the big screen in 1996 with the child star Mara Wilson as the title character. Seeing Matilda’s telekinetic powers and her horrid family brought to life is a treat for viewers both young and old.

The Borrowers by Mary Norton (1952)

Arrietty Clock and her family are Borrowers – little people who live in homes belonging to ‘human beans’. While the humans may not know they are hosting a few extra guests, they must surely have noticed their possessions disappearing from time to time. Arrietty’s father Pod is especially talented at ‘borrowing’ and life is ticking along nicely, until one day Arrietty makes friends with a human bean boy. Arrietty’s curiosity about life above the floorboards sparks danger for the Clock family who find themselves forced to move house to avoid ‘being seen’. Mary Norton’s adorable adventure, and its sequels, have been the subject of both films and TV series. A 1992 BBC series starring Ian Holm and Penelope Wilton was followed by the 1997 film The Borrowers and a Studio Ghibli animation in 2010 called Arrietty

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende (1979)

The Neverending Story follows Bastian Balthazar Bux, a lonely young boy who is definitely not your typical storybook hero. After escaping some bullies at school, Bastian stumbles into an antique bookshop, where he comes across an old book. Through its pages, Bastian is taken on a journey to a mysterious fantasy land known as Fantastica. Here he meets brave warrior Atreyu, fearsome wolf Gmork, the beautiful Empress, and a luckdragon called Falkor. But Fantastica is under threat from The Nothing, a darkness that destroys everything it encounters, and it needs the help of a human child to survive. Is Bastian up to the task? This story is so beloved by children that one big screen film was not enough – two sequels were also made. The first film was made in West Germany in 1984 and was the most expensive ever produced outside of Hollywood and the Soviet Union at the time and was a huge hit at the box office. For those watching The Neverending Story for the first time, be prepared with a box of tissues for when Atreyu and his horse Artax head into the Swamp of Sadness.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio (2012)

August ‘Auggie’ Pullman is used to being stared at wherever he goes. While he may feel like an ordinary 10-year-old in so many ways, he doesn’t look like other 10-year-olds as Auggie was born with a rare facial abnormality. This moving but uplifting novel follows Auggie as he goes to school for the very first time. Having been home-schooled by his parents, it’s time for this special young boy to join other kids his age in the classroom. But it’s not going to be easy. Can he convince his classmates that it’s what’s inside that truly counts? And that despite his physical differences, he is the same as them? Unsurprisingly, Hollywood adapted Auggie’s touching story into a hit film in 2017 that stars Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, and Jacob Tremblay.

The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy (1974)

Mildred Hubble has been casting her spell for over 50 years and not just on young readers but also on young television viewers. Mildred is a trainee at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches but she’s struggling to get to grips with things. Her spells keep going wrong and her broomstick keeps crashing. These disastrous situations have earned Mildred the title of worst witch in the school. Can she turn things around or is being ex-spelled a very real risk? Fans of Mildred can follow her adventures in the ITV series which aired from 1998 to 2001 and in the more recent 2017 series which aired on CBBC and Netflix.

Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White & Garth Williams (1952)

Charlotte’s Web is considered a classic of children’s literature so it’s no wonder it has been given the Hollywood treatment over the decades. E. B. White’s book follows a girl called Fern who nurtures the runt of a litter of piglets and names him Wilbur. But when Wilbur is no longer little anymore, he is sold to Fern’s uncle where he is ignored by the other farm animals. But a beautiful grey barn spider called Charlotte takes pity on the pig and weaves a plan to save Wilbur from his fate. A live-action film of this heart-warming tale was made in 2006 with a cast that included Julia Roberts, John Cleese, and Oprah Winfrey. 

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (1963)

When mischievous Max puts on his wolf costume one night and causes chaos at home, his mother calls him ‘Wild Thing’ and sends him to his room without any dinner. But that night a forest starts to grow in Max’s bedroom, and he finds himself sailing across an ocean to an island inhabited by creatures, simply called the Wild Things. The monsters try to scare Max, but he soon manages to tame them and finds himself crowned as their king and a wild rumpus begins. But when Max sends them all off to bed, he starts to feel lonely and realises there really is no place like home. This fantasy adventure was made into a live-action feature film in 2009 with some CGI and animatronic wild things. It’s one children will want to watch again and again.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1962)

This book, originally written in 1962, follows Meg and her little brother Charles as they go searching for their lost father, a famous astrophysicist. But the siblings soon find themselves on a dangerous journey through a ‘wrinkle in time’. They are joined on their quest by three astral travellers known as Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who and Mrs Which. This empowering story about the battle between good and evil, and the power of love was turned into a star-studded film in 2018. Directed by Ava DuVernay, the cast includes Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling. 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl & Quentin Blake (1964)

Willy Wonka is one of Roald Dahl’s most eccentric and flamboyant characters and it’s no wonder filmmakers have wanted to depict him in full technicolor. Wonka is the most extraordinary chocolate-maker in the world and children and their parents alike are desperate for a tour of his famous factory. Clutching their Golden Tickets, Charlie Bucket and four beastly children begin the strangest, sweetest day of their lives. But what mysterious secrets will our hero Charlie, Augustus Gloop – a great big greedy nincompoop; Veruca Salt – a spoiled brat; Violet Beauregarde – a repulsive little gum-chewer; and Mike Teavee – a boy who only watches television, discover? Gene Wilder is unforgettable as Wonka in 1971’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory but more recently the role was depicted by Johnny Depp in director Tim Burton’s wacky 2005 version.

The Story of Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson & Nick Sharratt (1991)

Jacqueline Wilson’s book follows the life of 10-year-old Tracy who lives in a children’s home that she has nicknamed the Dumping Ground. Tracy dreams of living in a real home though with a real family, and her imaginative stories give her comfort when she is feeling lonely. This touching and funny story offers an insightful view into the lives of children in foster care and Tracy has become one of Wilson’s most well-known and beloved characters. The Story of Tracy Beaker was the basis for a hugely successful television series that ran on the CBBC channel for five seasons and starred Dani Harmer as the witty and mischievous Tracy.

Stuart Little by E. B. White & Garth Williams (1945)

Stuart Little is like no other mouse you may have encountered. For one, he wears clothes, can talk, and lives with his adoptive human family in New York City. Stuart might be small and shy but he’s also adventurous and brave. When his best friend, a beautiful bird called Margalo disappears from her nest, Stuart is determined to track her down. As he finds himself far from home for the first time, he meets old friends and makes new ones along the way. This story was adapted into a film of the same name in 1999 and saw Michael J. Fox voice the role of Stuart. However, Stuart Little 2 (2002) bears more of a resemblance to the original novel. Regardless, the Stuart Little series makes for perfect family viewing.

The Sheep-Pig by Dick King-Smith (1983)

When Farmer Hoggett wins the orphaned piglet Babe at a county fair, he has no idea what adventures lie ahead of him. The farmer allows Babe to stay in the barn under the watchful eye of kind-hearted sheepdog Fly, her mate Rex, and their puppies. But Babe soon realises that he needs to make himself indispensable to Farmer Hoggett in order to avoid being served up as Christmas dinner. He knows he can’t be a sheepdog, but maybe he could be a sheep-pig. Dick King-Smith’s heart-warming book was turned into the box office hit Babe in 1995 and was nominated for seven Academy Awards! That'll do pig, that'll do.

Annie by Thomas Meehan (1980)

The story of the orphan Annie began as a comic strip but in 1977 it was adapted into a multi-award-winning musical. It has since been adapted for the big screen in 1982 and 2014 with a variety of stars taking on its classic songs including Tomorrow and It’s a Hard Knock Life. The original plot is set in 1933 and centres around 11-year-old Annie who believes it is only a matter of time until her mother and father return to the New York City orphanage to get her. Annie’s life there is really tough, especially with the mean headmistress Miss Hannigan treating all of the girls so badly. So, Annie decides to run away to find her parents but unwittingly crosses paths with millionaire Oliver Warbucks. Will this sweet and kind girl finally get the family she has always wanted? Make sure you warm up your vocal chords.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Book 1) by Jeff Kinney (2007)

Life is proving a challenge for Greg Heffley. He’s started at a new school where undersize weaklings must share corridors with bigger, beefier kids who aren’t very friendly. Luckily, he has his friend Rowley to moan to but when Rowley starts to become more popular, Greg is forced to devise ways to match him. He uses his diary to document these plans, but of course, they don’t always go as smoothly as he hopes… Devotees of the hit series will be pleased to hear that four of Jeff Kinney’s books have been made into live-action comedy films, and most recently an animated film was released exclusively on Disney+.

Watership Down by Richard Adams & David Parkins (1972)

Fiver has a feeling something terrible is about to happen to their warren and his brother Hazel says Fiver’s gift for sensing what is going to happen, good and bad, is never wrong. The pair decide they must leave at once but have to persuade the other rabbits to join them. This children’s classic follows the animals as they search for a new home, facing peril and uncertainty along the way. Fiver’s vision finally leads them to Watership Down where they face their most difficult challenge of all. This beautiful tale of courage and survival was first made into an award-winning animated film in 1978 which has received controversy for some of its graphic scenes. It has also been adapted into an animated television series in 2018 with characters voiced by James McAvoy, John Boyega, and Olivia Colman.

Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian (1981)

Goodnight Mr Tom is set during the Second World War and is about the unlikely bond between an old man and a young boy. When Willie Beech is evacuated from London, he ends up in the care of grumpy old widower Tom Oakley. His life in the country is a stark contrast to the sad, deprived home life he had with his abusive mother, and he soon begins to flourish. Mister Tom teaches Willie to read, write and draw and the young boy gives the reclusive man a new lease of life. But when Willie is summoned back to London by his mother, their newfound happiness is shattered. When Willie doesn’t answer his letters, Tom sets off to London to find him. Goodnight Mister Tom has been adapted into a stage play, which earned a Laurence Olivier award in 2013, and for the small screen in 1998 with John Thaw playing Tom. Have some tissues ready.

Madame Doubtfire by Anne Fine (1987)

Lydia, Christopher, and Natalie’s parents are getting divorced and life at home is not easy. As they split their time between living with their mother Miranda and out-of-work actor father Daniel, a larger-than-life cleaning lady enters their lives. But will the children find out that there’s more to Madame Doubtfire than meets the eye? This touching and bittersweet story was turned into the much-loved hit film Mrs. Doubtfire starring Sally Field, Mara Wilson, and the late great Robin Williams in 1993.

The Witches by Roald Dahl & Quentin Blake (1983)

There is no doubt that Roald Dahl’s tales lend themselves to entertaining film and television adaptations. His characters are larger-than-life and full of humour and horror in equal measure. The Witches is probably Dahl’s scariest story. It follows a young English boy who goes to live with his grandmother in Norway after his parents die. He soon learns about secret child-hating societies of witches who are ruled by the evil Grand High Witch who plans to turn all children into mice. The book has been turned into a film twice with Angelica Huston and Anne Hathaway playing the leader of the world’s wickedest women in 1990 and 2021 respectively.

The Exploits of Moominpappa by Tove Jansson (1950)

Finnish author and illustrator Tove Jansson’s books about unusual white creatures with large snouts who embark on countless adventures have been popular among young readers for over seven decades. Said to be based on the author’s friends and family, Moomintroll and his family live in Moominvalley where they are happiest being in harmony with nature. The books follow the Moomins as they grapple with growing up, family strife, and other eccentric and sometimes magical creatures. The Moomins have been depicted on television numerous times including the stop motion series The Moomins in 1977; an anime adaptation called Moomin in 1990, and in 2019 a Finnish-British series called Moominvalley was produced with a stellar cast including Taron Egerton, Rosamund Pike, and Kate Winslet.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)

When Alice follows a talking white rabbit down its hole one summer afternoon, it is the start of an adventure beyond her wildest imagination. The curious young girl soon meets a bizarre variety of characters including the Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat, and the Queen of Hearts. As she goes deeper into this magical fantasy land, she finds herself faced with perplexing riddles, never-ending tea parties, and a curious game of croquet. Disney first depicted Alice and her weird and wacky friends in their 1951 animation. It has since been followed by two big Hollywood live-action adaptations directed by Tim Burton who, as we know, loves larger-than-life characters. His first film, Alice in Wonderland (2010) made over $1 billion at the box office.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (1977)

Katherine Paterson’s story about friendship and loss follows 11-year-old neighbours Jess Aarons and Leslie Burke who have created a fantasy world called Terabithia that they escape to when family life becomes overwhelming. The pair call themselves the King and Queen and spend their time in an abandoned treehouse on an island across the creek. The only way to reach their magical kingdom is to use a rope swing. The friends feel happy and invincible – until tragedy strikes. As Jess comes to terms with what has happened, he discovers that his family loves him more than he thought, and he sets out to preserve Terabithia for other children. Disney turned Paterson’s story into a film in 2007 and starred The Hunger Games’ Josh Hutcherson as Jess, and AnnaSophia Robb as Leslie. This is another one that will require lots of tissues. 

The BFG by Roald Dahl & Quentin Blake (1982)

As we have already demonstrated with this list, Roald Dahl’s imagination knew no bounds and the BFG contains some of the author’s funniest and wackiest words. When orphan Sophie is snatched from her bed one night, she finds herself learning about whizzpopping and whoopsy-whiffling from the Big Friendly Giant. But while the BFG might be happy with a diet of snozzcumbers and frobscottle, there are other not-so-friendly beasts who are after something meatier. Can Sophie and her big-eared new friend stop them from crunching and munching on human beans? This is another kid’s classic that has had both the small and big-screen treatment. In 1989 it was turned into a trippy but delightful animated film with the hilarious Whizzpopping song, sung by David Jason. And then more recently in 2016, legendary director Steven Spielberg adapted the story with Mark Rylance as the kindly BFG. Both adaptations will delight ‘chidlers’ and adults.

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