Envisioning Childhood Classics

By: Brennan Carley, Taylor Cavaloo, & Dan Siering

Though it seems fans of Suzanne Collins were pleased with this weekend’s release of The Hunger Games, it’s more common than not for book lovers to hate the subsequent onscreen adaptations. Below, find three of our editors’ childhood favorites and how they would adapt them for the screen.

‘The Giving Tree’

The Giving Tree, written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein, is an undeniable staple of children’s literature that has stood the test of time-it remains one of the bestselling children’s books to this day since its original publication in 1964. This is and always has been a story close to my heart. I remember reading the book as a child with my parents, and even strangely at such a young age, I felt the true meaning of the book. It elicited such emotion in me that I never forgot the story and can almost remember it word for word to this day.

The book tells the story of a boy who frequently seeks out a tree for things he wants and needs: branches, shade, and apples. The tree gives unselfishly, willingly, and lovingly. However, as the boy grows older, he demands more. As his final request, the boy asks if he can cut the tree down in order to build a boat, and for the last time, the tree (now a stump) complies. At the end of the book, the boy who has now grown much older returns, and the tree is surprised to see him, claiming that she has nothing left to give, as she is now only a stump. But the boy insists he doesn’t want anything: “Just a quiet place to sit and rest,” the only thing the tree can still provide.

The Giving Tree is such a classic because it is poignant in all the right ways. It is a story about growing up, and more importantly, a love so true that it will give and give of itself until there is nothing left. It illustrates the kind of love that, in its purest form, only a parent could have for a child, which is what makes it such a great book for parents and children to read together. Another layer of raw emotion that the story emphasizes is the carefree happiness associated with childhood that is inevitably lost upon reaching adulthood, adding a sense of melancholic nostalgia to a more mature reader. While many see the relationship as an analogy for a parent/child dynamic, the book has certainly sparked controversy over the years, as some critics read it as a metaphor for an abusive relationship between a man and a woman, as the tree is personified as a female throughout the book. The “man,” who takes and takes from a woman who has little to give, simply leaves her when she is merely a “stump,” symbolic of her being left with nothing. Years later, when he returns, she joyously embraces him, forgetting the abuse and the neglect he inflicted upon her.

Silverstein’s classic children’s book would be an emotional, but worthwhile film that could be enjoyed by people of all ages. Perhaps the tree and boy relationship would have to be altered and the story would have to be lengthened, but if the message remained the same, it would make it a fantastic film.

‘Could Be Worse!’

For some odd reason, I’m not the greatest at exercising memories from my childhood. One recollection that sticks in my brain, however, are the times that I would snuggle into my red trundle bed and have my dad read stories to me as I slowly dozed off. While many of the books were reserved for certain holidays or seasons, one book that was fair game any time of year was Could Be Worse! by James Stevenson.

For those who need a refresher course, Could Be Worse! tells the story of a seemingly stalwart grandpa who, in the eyes of his grandkids, lives an ungodly boring life. Grandpa eats the same thing every day, reads the same paper every day, and says the same phrase every time one of his grandchildren complains-“could be worse.” Whether it’s getting a splinter in your finger, getting a flat tire on your bike, or losing your kite in a tree, Grandpa always responds with those three simple words.

When his grandkids wonder if anything exciting ever happens in his life, Grandpa promptly tells an extraordinary tale in which he is kidnapped by a large bird, has a snowball fight with an abominable snowman, and journeys to the bottom of the sea. The kids, thoroughly entertained by the fantastical story, zealously shout after every new episode-“could be worse!” With its simple yet majestic watercolors and wise outlook on life situations, Could Be Worse! still remains one of my favorite tales of all time.

Several of my more anxious friends have told me that I possess a very level-headed attitude that makes me always hesitant to worry about the trifles in life. I think I owe a lot of this deliberate demeanor to my father. When I look back on those faint memories of my dad reading to me in my bed, Could Be Worse! evidently seemed to serve as a means by which my dad tried to pass on this golden gift of composure. He was trying to tell me a simple yet important message-that although we might experience obstacles and hardships in our life, we must always remember how much we truly have and how lucky we truly are. Because of this fact, we should never feel compelled to get worked up about everyday problems. In the end, I feel that my dad was indeed successful in engraining this message into my head. After all, my senior quote was “Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you anywhere.” Yes, those are the words of the great Van Wilder.

I think that today’s generation would greatly benefit from seeing Could Be Worse! on the silver screen. Technology in modern cinema would certainly do Stevenson’s classic watercolors justice, but I think the best thing a film adaptation could offer is a humble and clear message. As the world seemingly becomes more complex by the day, it would benefit Americans if they could momentarily step back and realize that things around them definitely could be worse.

Henry Huggins

When I was younger, every free moment I had was spent reading books. I loved picking up the bundles of novels at Costco with my mom on shopping trips, obscure titles like Hotel for Dogs and Sammy Keyes and The Hotel Thief that transported me to worlds I could never begin to understand.

One of my favorite things to do when I was younger was to pillage the bookshelves in my grandma’s basement, excited at the prospect of discovering novels that my mom and her siblings had read when they were my age. I discovered the novels of Beverly Cleary, and became especially fascinated with Henry Huggins, the story of a small-town boy with a paper route and a scraggly dog.

Henry Huggins lives on Klickitat Street in Portland, Ore. in the middle of the 1950s. Eleven years old, Henry epitomizes the American boy on Main Street motif that countless authors have attempted to capture. Sometimes he gets lucky, like the time when he won a door prize at a grand opening of the town’s new supermarket-at a time when events like that could cause a stir. At the same time, Henry finds himself struggling to redefine his relationship with his parents, as he grows older and more independent. He appears again in several other novels (Henry and Beezus, Henry and Ribsy, and my favorite of the sequels, Henry and the Paper Route) and always manages to maintain that whimsical sense of carelessness throughout.

Cleary knew how to write, having spent a career honing her literary skills as a librarian, which is why it comes as no surprise that her children’s novels hold up exceptionally well today. She claims to have written Huggins, the first book in a series, in response to boys who would come into her library searching for things to read that were tailored for them. If only boys were still interested in reading, a whole new generation of Henry Huggins fans might exist.

With the success of the Wimpy Kid movies, a movie version of Henry Huggins would surely do well with parents and children alike, a family-friendly movie that would offer a burst of nostalgic enjoyment during the summer months. The story has universal appeal, and even girls could enjoy his subplot with neighbor and friend Beezus and her sister Ramona (the two recently appeared in the film Ramona and Beezus, starring Selena Gomez). He’s not as wacky and disrespectful as other young male protagonists. He’s content just to sit out by a campfire with Ribsy and his coonskin cap.

Filmmakers must be careful to maintain the whimsy and down-home appeal of Cleary’s original novels. Henry is an everyman character who carves out his niche in a small town unreceptive to change. He makes mistakes, but he always learns from them. Often male characters from these childhood favorite books are forced into back-and-forth flirtation with female characters, even if these storylines were never present in the original writing. Henry is a good kid who deserves a movie that stays true to his book, one of the greatest “boy books” of the past century.

 

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