Adapting Books for Stage & Screen – with Caitlin Boyle
Today, I’m thrilled to present an interview with Caitlin Boyle, an expert on children’s book adaptations for stage and screen! You can read Caitlin’s reviews on her blog, Bookology, and stay tuned for her forthcoming podcast, Words In Living Color, discussing everything adaptation-related. Yours truly had the privilege of being the first interviewee and we nerded out discussing Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, including the 2007 film version of The Golden Compass and the forthcoming TV adaptation from BBC/HBO.
Can you tell me about Bookology, your blog, and Words in Living Color, your podcast?
I’d love to! Bookology is a collection of reviews of children’s and YA books, audiobooks, and adaptations. In addition to being an avid reader, one of my favorite formats is audiobooks, which I listen to constantly while I commute. I am also passionate about adaptations, which both intrigue me and bring out the harsh critic in me! I am currently transitioning from written reviews to a conversation-style podcast, tentatively titled Words in Living Color, which, I hope, will allow me to explore and examine adaptations in a more thorough and engaging capacity.
What do you find fascinating about adaptations?
Adaptation, according to adaptation theorist Linda Hutcheon, is the “process of appropriation, of taking possession of another’s story and filtering it, in a sense, through one’s own sensibilities, interests, and talents.” And though there are variances between an original text and its adaptation, a successful adaptation enhances the original story, its characters, and its theme, rather than simply rehashing the original plot. Looking at the ways adaptors and platforms have explored particular moments or characters is fascinating and allows me to see the merits of certain adaptational choices. I am a strong proponent of multimodal learning, which adaptations provide, especially for those students who learn best through visual means. Simply put, I enjoy comparing the original story to its adapted work – it’s just fun!
What makes for a successful adaptation of a book to stage or screen?
Many Harry Potter fans argue Alfonso Cuarón’s 2004 adaptation is the best of the Potter movies.
There are several important qualities and components of good adaptations. The first is staying as true to the overall message and theme of the book as possible through the plot and character developments. Adaptations should also bring something new or original to the adapted story, something that may enhance a character or explore the story at a deeper level. Another quality of successful adaptations, especially those in visual formats, is transforming static text into captivating action. There are many examples of adaptations that miss the mark on one of these components, which inevitably leads to a poor transformation of the original text.
How do you think adaptations help kids and parents engage with stories in new ways?
Adaptations allow kids, who may struggle with reading or who are just not thrilled about reading, to experience a story in a way that fits their learning style. There are so many benefits to listening to audiobooks–first and foremost is making the reading experience a family-oriented and engaging one. Film and stage adaptations provide kids with visual representations of a story and its characters, which leaves them with a deeper understanding of character emotions and themes. Alternative formats of storytelling offer learners and readers of every kind a connection to the power of a narrative and immersing themselves into a new world.
Matilda made its West End premiere in November 2011 .
What are some of your favourite adaptations?
Oh goodness, where to begin! I have so many! My favorite musical adaptations are Matilda and Anne of Green Gables. Narrowing down movie adaptations is tough, but my top five are How to Train Your Dragon, Ender’s Game, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Beauty and the Beast, and Jumanji. (These favorites are limited to children’s and YA adaptations only, which is to say I have a lot of favorite adaptations that are outside this scope.) I wish I had the space to share why I love these adaptations, but, alas, so much to say, so little time!
If you could pick a book that hasn’t been adapted and put it in a new medium, which book would it be and what medium would you choose?
Newbery Honor book, Ella Enchanted, published in 1998.
I would actually love to see, and possibly create myself, a musical adaptation of Ella Enchanted! The movie is one of the most disappointing adaptations I’ve seen to date, though I did like that they added music to the film, which made it watchable for me. The book by Gail Carson Levine was so inspiring and powerful and gave young girls the empowerment that often is lacking in fantasy for young readers. This empowerment, though touched on in the film, doesn’t fulfill readers’ expectations. I would love to give audiences a true representation of Levine’s novel and Ella, who, by her own sheer will, refuses to marry the man she loves because she wants to make the choice herself, rather than being ordered to do so (sorry for the spoiler).
We are both big fans of audiobooks, which are enjoying a rise in popularity. At the same time, ebook sales have plateaued and slightly decreased. What do you find appealing about audiobook adaptations and why do you think ebook ‘adaptations’ are stalling?
I’ve never really been a huge fan of ebooks, although I do appreciate the ability to bring a ton of books with you electronically. I think people are reverting back to physical books or, sadly, no books at all (Netflix and chill). I’ve also found that with ebooks, the transition into the electronic format is done almost haphazardly and without the care and attention that should be paid to this format. Audiobooks, especially in electronic format like Audible and e-libraries, feel a bit like a play; the dramatic nature of audiobooks allows its listeners to be a part of the story in some way, while also being able to multitask while “reading”, and the low-cost/free aspect of e-library audiobooks doesn’t hurt either!
Caitlin Boyle is an avid reader, singer, and Harry Potter expert. She has a Masters degree in Children’s Literature from the University of British Columbia and a background in elementary education.
You can check out her Master’s thesis, which analyzes musical adaptations of Matilda and Harry Potter, HERE.