Book to Film

Sample Syllabus Seven for teaching with Crosscurrents of Children's Literature, Oxford University Press

The purpose of this course is to look at an ever-growing trend in children’s media: the adaptation of book to film. Often students complain that they do not like a movie because it was “not like the book,” but they do not have the skills to analyze the social and ethical implications of these adaptations. Whether you show video clips in the classroom or they are assigned to be watched on the students’ own time will make a big difference in how the class is taught. The amount of time it takes to watch a film needs to be kept in mind when making assignments. In some cases, simply showing a short clip will be enough to begin a worthwhile discussion.

Other than the introductory week, each includes readings from books that have had movies derived from them.  Consider showing clips of the same parts of the stories from which the readings are taken, and comparing them in class.


Cox, Marian Roalfe. Cinderella: Three Hundred and Forty-Five Variants of Cinderella, Catskin, and Cap O’ Rushes. Introduction by Andrew Lang. London. David Nutt, 1893.

Dundes, Alan. Cinderella: A Casebook. 1982. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1988.

Giroux, Henry. “Are Disney Movies Good For Your Kids?” Kinder-Culture: The Corporate Construction of Childhood. Ed. Shirley R. Steinberg and Joe L. Kincheloe. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998. 53 – 68.

Holliss, Richard and Brian Sibley. Walt Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and the Making of the Classic Film. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987.

Rollin, Lucy, ed. The Antic Art: Enhancing Children's Literary Experiences Through Film and Video. Fort Atkinson, WI: Highsmith Press, 1993.

Wojcik-Andrews, Ian. Children’s Films: History, Ideology, Pedagogy, Theory.  New York: Garland, 2000.

Zipes, Jack. “Breaking the Disney Spell.” From Mouse to Mermaid: The Politics of Film, Gender, and Culture. Ed. Elizabeth Bell, et al. Bloomington, IN: Indiana UP, 1995.  21–42. 


Book to Movie. For this paper, the students will read one book and watch one movie based on that book. For the first part of the project, the students will compare changes: what is different between the two? For the second part, they will look at the cultural implications of these adaptations: what does it mean that these things have been changed? Film theory could be helpful here, as well as cultural theory.

History of a Story. For this paper, students will choose one story that has been adapted into film several times. Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and Little Women are three examples. They will then watch as many of these adaptations as they can find, and trace the history of the story’s adaptations. The students will look for things such as the way specific changes reflect specific aspects of the era in which the movie was made, things that were repeatedly left out; things that were only in one or two versions; things that every movie version of the story does include. Pay attention to such things as when the movie that sticks closest to the text was made, as well as the one straying farthest from the text. Narrative theory and film theory may be helpful here, as well as cultural studies.

Fairy Tale Paper. Choose one fairy tale, and read the earliest version of this story that you can find. Then find one or two more recent versions, and read those. Begin the project by comparing and contrasting those stories, and then  watch at least two movies that retell the same story. Look at what things were added to make the story movie length, as well as what may have been changed or adapted specifically for the movies. Focus on how the story changes from one media to another.  

Transforming What Can’t be Filmed. Books have many aspects that simply don’t translate well to film: interior dialog, description, and long passages that explain background information, are three examples. For this paper, students will focus specifically on the way one specific film adaptation of a children’s book deals with one or more of these issues. 

Disney Paper. Pick a Disney movie and analyze the cultural implications of what it does with the story it is based on. 

Gender Paper. Pick a children’s movie based on a book and compare the way  gender is presented in both, focusing on changes. 


Week 1: Introduction

Read Introduction to Chapter 7: Satires and Spin-offs: Adaptations of Classic Children’s Literature

“Little Angels, Little Monsters: Keeping Childhood Innocent” Marina Warner

From The Wind in the Willows Kenneth Grahame

From Charlotte’s Web E. B. White

Week 2: Cultural Issues

“Is that Book Politically Correct? Truth and Trends in Historical Literature for Young People” Hazel Rochman, Masha Kabakow, Diane Stanley

“Should We Burn Babar?” Herbert P. Kohl

From Little House on the Prairie Laura Ingalls Wilder

Week 3: The Secret Garden

“American Film Adaptations of The Secret Garden: Reflections of Historical and Social Change” Juliane Gillispie

“‘Quite Contrary’: Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden” Elizabeth Lennox Keyser

From The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett

Week 4:  Didacticism

“Didacticism in Modern Dress” John Rowe Townsend

From The Adventures of Pinocchio Carlo Collodi

From Be Careful What You Wish For… R. L. Stine

From Jacob Have I Loved Katherine Paterson

Week 5: Subversion

“A Child’s Garden of Subversion” Alison Lurie

From Treasure Island Robert Louis Stevenson

From Pippi Longstocking Astrid Lindgren

Week 6: Fairy Tales

“Reflections: The Uses of Enchantment” Bruno Bettelheim

“Reading Fairy Tales” Maria Tatar

“Hansel and Gretel” Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Week 7: Fairy Tales, continued

“The Brother’s Grimm and Sister Jane” Jane Yolen

“Moral Simplification in The Little Mermaid” A. Walter Hastings

“The Little Mermaid” Hans Christian Andersen

“Beauty and the Beast” Marie Le Prince de Beaumont

Week 8: Cinderella

Fairy Tales “Cinderella: Saturday Afternoon at the Movies” Louise Bernikow

“Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper” Charles Perrault

“Ashputtle” Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

“The Indian Cinderella” Cyrus MacMillan

Week 9: Gender Issues—Girls

“‘As the Twig is Bent…’ Gender and Childhood Reading” Elizabeth Segel

“Toy-Based Videos for Girls: My Little Pony” Ellen  Seiter

From Little Women, Chapter 8 “Jo Meets  Apollyon” Louisa May Alcott

From Anne of Green Gables, Chapter 10, “Anne’s Apology” L. M. Montgomery

Week 10: Gender Issues—Boys

“Boys Will be Boys: Six Myths of our Time” Marina Warner

“Review of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” William Dean Howells

“Huck, Continued” E. L. Doctorow and David Bradley

From The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Chapter 12, “Tom Shows His Generosity” Mark Twain

Week 11: Fantasy, Part 1

“Fantasy” C. W. Sullivan

“Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?” Ursula K. LeGuin

From Alice’s Adventure’s In Wonderland Lewis Carroll

From Through the Looking Glass Lewis Carroll

Week 12: Fantasy, Part 2

“Liking and Not Liking Fantasy” Perry Nodelman

From The Wonderful Wizard of Oz L. Frank Baum

From A Wrinkle in Time Madeleine L’Engle

Week 13: Parody

“‘Will the Real Dragon Please Stand Up?’ Convention and Parody in Children’s Stories” Jon C. Stott

“The Last of the Dragons” E. Nesbit

“Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf” Roald Dahl

From The Dragons are Singing Tonight Jack Prelutsky

Week 14: Realism

“Realism in Children’s Literature: Notes from a Historical Perspective” Elizabeth Segel

From The Man Without a Face Isabella Holland

From Ramona The Pest Beverly Cleary 

From Jacob Have I Loved Katherine Paterson

Week 15: Wrapping Up

“Hope and Happy Endings” Katherine Paterson

Return to list of sample syllabi

Sample syllabus prepared by Melody Green

Contact Tina L. Hanlon with questions or comments on this site.

Updated: August 16, 2010   |   Return to Home Page: Crosscurrents of Children's Literature