Thursday 20 September 2018

This week's Readitorial: "Ten children's picture books that would make far better Christmas TV adaptations than yet another Julia Donaldson / Axel Scheffler book"

We're still playing catchup a bit after a summer of laziness and not a lot of book news. But we did spot one article that once again had us inwardly groaning. 

As much as we've loved the BBC Christmas tradition in recent years of adapting and animating children's books, it's become a bit of a bust when we see the same Author / Artist 'getting the gig'. 

Yep, this year the 'gig' in question once again goes to Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler with a book that barely met with a 'meh' from C way way back in the infancy of our blog, when we still assigned number ratings to books we reviewed. It was a 2 out of 5. Not horrible or terrible, but by no means a book that stuck in the memory (in fact, and shout me down on this point if you do love it, I very rarely see it being discussed at all amongst picture book fanatics we follow / follow us on Twitter). 

So why scrape the barrel when there are far better children's picture books out there to adapt? Hell, when there are far better CHRISTMASSY children's picture books out there that would be equally glorious in animated form to gaze at while tucking into your tiny little tin of Quality Street. 

So let's gather together ten of the best - and cross our fingers next year that we don't end up with yet another animated christmas turkey from Auntie Beeb. 

This has absolutely all the right elements to make for a truly fantastic christmas story - but it's also a really fabulous story in its own right.

James Mayhew's glorious "Katie" series is never better than when Katie and her cousin Jack take a trip to London to help out Santa.

The poor old fellah has a thoroughly rotten cold, so he's going to need some help to deliver all the presents to children - so it's up to Katie and Jack to help save christmas for everyone.

In picture book form it's a slice of magic, and as an animated movie it practically BEGS to be recreated in that same fabulous flowing form that James' illustrations all have.

It'd be a christmas dream!

2) "This Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown" by Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton. 

The Christmas animation doesn't necessarily need to be "Christmassy" though (and in fact if you really did want to adapt an Emily Brown book you could go for the easy win of adapting Cressida and Neal's brand spanking new "Emily Brown and Father Christmas"). But we'll be honest here, this is by far the best book in the series - and the one we'd most dearly love to see turned into an animated classic.

The story of Emily Brown and her beloved Rabbit Stanley is just utterly timeless, and a book we've read (and indeed reviewed) again and again on the blog as the plucky kid adventurer resists the pleas from a rather naughty little queen to give up her favourite toy for all manner of (not very tempting) alternatives. Until of course the wicked queen resorts to nefarious means, and steals Stanley away!

If you've never encountered these books but are familiar with Cressida's "How to Train your Dragon" series, you'll know you're in for top-flight writing, and brilliant wibbly illustrations from Neal just add to the huge appeal of these books.

3) "The Storm Whale" by Benji Davies. 

Again, not christmassy - but this is just one of the many Benji Davies books that would make truly brilliant animated shorts. Benji's own book trailers for his books show just how fabulous this could look

The story of little Noi and his encounter with a poor baby whale who ends up beached on Noi's island is just utterly sublime and atmospheric.

We could also imagine "The Storm Whale in Winter" being a shoe-in for fitting the right wintry festive atmosphere for a christmas TV classic too. With such a strong visual look and a delightfully simple but utterly engrossing story, this would be an utterly brilliant choice.

4) "The Pirates Next Door" by Jonny Duddle. 

Here's another non-festive book that we still can't quite believe hasn't already had the animated treatment. Given Jonny's previous experience of providing awesome designs and input for the "Pirates" movie by Aardman Animations, we've already got a clear picture in our heads of how this adventure with the Jolley Rogers could look.

A timely and important tale for kids about tolerance as well as how utterly brilliant a life on the ocean wave as a scurvy pirate would be, it would be a brilliant slice of Christmas fun.

You could even get the man himself to narrate his own story - he did such a great job on the audio versions of these.

5) "The Bear and the Piano" by David Litchfield. 

This sublime and atmospheric story might've been surpassed a smidge by its sequel ("The Bear, The Piano, The Dog and the Fiddle) but the original "The Bear and the Piano" would make for such a heartwarming and gloriously atmospheric animation, again we're surprised it hasn't already been snapped up.

The story of a bear who discovers his love for music quite by accident, then becomes a huge globetrotting star - but never forgets his humble roots - ticks all the right boxes for being visually stunning, with a nice little moral but also a really fab little story.

We've loved David Litchfield's books and think it would actually be quite a challenge to adapt his stunning illustrations to capture that glowy rim-lit and atmospheric look and feel, but we'd love to see someone try. It could be truly magical.

6) "The Little Red Wolf" by Amelie Flechais.

We really wanted absolutely everyone on the planet to discover the glorious books of Amelie Flechais. Not very many get translated into English but in the case of "The Little Red Wolf", Amelie's utterly sumptuous artwork gave a children's classic fairy tale such a whopping great big shot in the arm that we come back to it again and again.

Imagining those amazing illustrations adapted either into a traditional 2D animation - or perhaps in the right hands a truly amazing 3D animated classic just makes us daydream happy daydreams.

It's a timeless tale of a little wolf finding an adventure in a world where the wolf and 'little girl' roles are subtly and neatly switched.

We love this book a lot and if you've yet to encounter it, we strongly suggest grabbing a copy.

7) Heapy and Heap's awesome "Very Little" series. 

You've got quite a few stories to choose from here, with a series that has always been consistently fun to read, beautifully well observed and again proving that adaptations of classic tales can be original and hilarious at the same time.

"Very Little Cinderella / Sleeping Beauty / Rapunzel" could all be adapted so easily into brilliant animations, retaining Sue Heap's fab watercolours into a flowing moving version.

We're waiting in anticipation for the next book but in the meantime we would dearly love to see at least one of these turned into a mini movie to enjoy with the family.

We're trying to think who'd make the best voice talent for this but C said she's more than up for the gig if it comes up!

8) Pretty much ANY Anthony Browne book.

Much as we love Julia and Axel's work, and the huge impact they've had on children's picture books, there's another Author / Artist whose work consistently blows us away.

Anthony Browne's books are always such a stunning treat, tinged with just the right sort of dark atmosphere we love to see in children's stories. A certain edginess but always with a subtle moral tucked neatly into a story that feels like it could leap out of the pages at any second, and completely engulf you.

Stuff like "The Tunnel" would probably be too dark for a cosy Christmas classic, but any of the "Willy" books would be ace, as would "Hide and Seek" - and if the animators could somehow reproduce that neat trick of hiding things in the backgrounds for kids to spot, these could be amazing adapted for screen.

9) "When it Snows" by Richard Collingridge. 

I've lost count of the number of people we've recommended this book to when they ask us for a festive wintry christmas book that ticks all the right boxes for being a brilliant story, full of glorious illustrations and a ton of atmosphere.

Again I remember the early book trailers for this book being beautifully animated and adapted - so it's very easy to imagine this glorious dash through the snow as a mini animated movie.

The tale of a boy's magical adventure through a snowbound landscape just oozes style and warmth despite its icy setting.

It's always at the top of our reading pile when we hunt out our Christmas Books for a re-read as December arrives so it'd be a brilliant choice.

10) "Black Dog" by Levi Pinfold. 

One look at the snowbound cover for this, and the thought of imagining a hugely talented studio (and they'd have to be hugely talented to capture the essence of Pinfold's work) working this brilliant modern classic into an animated short just sends shivers down our backs.

"Black Dog" isn't just in our top ten children's picture books of all time (somewhere near the top too, we might add, if we were ever foolish enough to try and compile such a list), it's another book we've recommended again and again to folk who want something more than twee and comfy little stories, but want something that's a fantastic story, is utterly visually perfect, and can be returned to again and again for kids of practically any age.

The story of a huge menacing black dog, and the tiny child who bravely stands up to the big shaggy bully to protect his family has so many neat twists, so many visual treats and would be a truly glorious choice.

So that rounds off our ten children's picture books that would be amazing choices to adapt to the small screen. Make it so, TV execs, you know it makes sense!