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Children's Books on the Big Screen

Children's Books on the Big Screen

By Meghann Meeusen
Series: Children's Literature Association Series

Hardcover : 9781496828644, 192 pages, June 2020
Paperback : 9781496828651, 192 pages, June 2020

A critical volume dedicated to children's film adaptation


In Children’s Books on the Big Screen, Meghann Meeusen goes beyond the traditional adaptation approach of comparing and contrasting the similarities of film and book versions of a text. By tracing a pattern across films for young viewers, Meeusen proposes that a consistent trend can be found in movies adapted from children’s and young adult books: that representations of binaries such as male/female, self/other, and adult/child become more strongly contrasted and more diametrically opposed in the film versions. The book describes this as binary polarization, suggesting that starker opposition between concepts leads to shifts in the messages that texts send, particularly when it comes to representations of gender, race, and childhood.

After introducing why critics need a new way of thinking about children’s adapted texts, Children’s Books on the Big Screen uses middle-grade fantasy adaptations to explore the reason for binary polarization and looks at the results of polarized binaries in adolescent films and movies adapted from picture books. Meeusen also digs into instances when multiple films are adapted from a single source such as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and ends with pragmatic classroom application, suggesting teachers might utilize this theory to help students think critically about movies created by the Walt Disney corporation. Drawing from numerous popular contemporary examples, Children’s Books on the Big Screen posits a theory that can begin to explain what happens—and what is at stake—when children’s and young adult books are made into movies.


"While Meeusen’s readers may still internally compare a film adaptation to its source text and find one preferable, Children’s Books on the Big Screen allows readers to imagine not only how to move beyond fidelity-based approaches, but how to make sure the next generation of scholars has the tools to critically examine the binary polarization trends that Meeusen carefully maps for her readers and explore the belief systems effected by the amplified polarizing of binaries. "

- Dina Schiff Massachi, Children’s Literature Association Quarterly

"Children’s Books on the Big Screen makes a significant contribution both to the general and the specific field of children’s films. Utilizing a full history of children’s film criticism and drawing on specific adaptation critics from outside children’s literature and film, it incorporates a variety of critical perspectives to develop the ongoing conversation about adaptation. Well written, accessible, and critically astute, Meghann Meeusen challenges scholars to rethink the problematic issue of fidelity to a source text, arguing convincingly that scholars should look instead for the ideological amplification and allow more voices to join the conversation. "

- Ian Wojcik-Andrews, author of Children's Films: History, Ideology, Pedagogy, Theory

"Meeusen’s voice is inclusive and inviting. Children's Books on the Big Screen encourages a new conversation around adaptations that goes meaningfully further than the phrase we have all heard or spoken—‘the book was better than the movie.’ . . . [It] provides an invaluable and much-needed contribution to the study of children’s and young adult adaptations."

- Raena Kerr, Film Matters

"[T]his is a strong contribution to the conversation surrounding evaluative practices specific to children’s and YA adaptations, both of which remain relatively underrepresented in our scholarship."

- Melissa Lenos, The Lion and the Unicorn