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Moving picture books Threatened for the best part of three decades by spending cuts in schools and libraries combined with the rise of new technology and changing family life, childrens publishing had been rattled to its bones. Not any more. After years trying slavishly to follow other media, especially television, by becoming ever shorter and more contemporary, the tables have been turned: film, TV and even radio are now looking to childrens books for the next big thing. Not only are J K Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone and Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings breaking records at the box office, but BBC Radio 4, for the second year running, devoted much of Boxing Day to a childrens book; BBC TVs Sunday drama is an extended dramatization of Philip Pullmans I Was A Rat! , and Raymond Brings sublime The Snowman has taken a habitual place in our Christmas viewing. This isnt entirely new. After all, for many children the real Pooh Bear is the Disney image, while E H Shepard's original illustrations remain something shadowy and old-fashioned; Mary Poppins, too, is far better known for Julie Andrews than for its creator, P L Travers.
But the power of childrens books to appeal to readers outside their traditional audience has increased enormously. Hollywood, once thought well beyond the reach of childrens authors, is now searching for the next great childrens book. Film options are being snapped up before TV once the dizziest height of aspiration for childrens books has even got off the blocks. In practical terms, new technology has enhanced magic of all kinds, while animation can work wonders in rendering underage or not quite human characters attractive to all.
Perhaps more importantly, in emotional terms, the sound, old-fashioned morality of childrens books, so much in evidence in the recent Shrek (based on a William Step picture book), provides exactly the kind of comforting reassurance that adults are longing for, judging by the huge numbers who flock to these films. While childrens publishers insist that a book must work in its own right, theres no doubt that film has now entered their vocabulary. Some of the status attached to Eoin Colfers Artemis Fowl, one of the fastest-selling books of 2001, was its almost instant sale to Hollywood. And its not just new books. Rights in old books, too, are suddenly hot properties. Roald Dahls most affectionate story, The BFG, has recently been optioned by Hollywood, as has Morris Gleitzmans hit tragicomedy Two Weeks With the Queen.
For childrens publishers, whose small marketing budgets make reaching beyond the committed readers a problem, these films are manna from heaven: free publicity which brings readers, old and young, to books. The search is on for the new titles that have the energy, creativity and mood-catching nostalgia to hit that multimedia buzzer. Here are some to look out for next year. Nicky Singers Feather Boy (Collins) is a hard-hitting contemporary story written with the help of the authors teenage son. Already sold to the US for a $ 10, 000 advance, it is being actively pursued by many film companies.
Tuck Everlasting (Bloomsbury) by Natalie Babbitt, a classic story of everlasting life, originally published in the US but out of print for some years, is being reissued in February 2002 ahead of the release of a Disney film starring Sissy Spacek and Ben Kingsley in the autumn. Sally Prues Cold Tom (Oxford) is a first novel set in a world in which human beings and elves meet. From the elfin world, Tom sees humans as demons, while in his own realm, its only the fittest who survive. Michael Homes Time Stops for No Mouse (Puffin) was self- published in the US, where it quickly became a bestseller.
Snapped up by Penguin for a record sum in a three-book deal for worldwide rights, its a mouse-driven fantasy which has been compared to E B Whites classic Stuart Little in its subject matter and Frasier in its humour. Ursula Le Guins The Other Wind (Orion) is an unexpected collection of Earthsea short stories, additions to the award-winning Earthsea Quartet (one of the most obvious inspirations for Harry Potter) published between 1978 and 1990. With Le Guin a highly successful writer for adults and children, this book will be pitched at the growing crossover market. A deal to adapt it as a miniseries has recently been signed with the SciFi Channel; Earthsea: The Movie cannot be far behind.
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Research essay sample on Harry Potter Childrens Books