As kids film and TV producers get set to descend upon the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in April in search of the next Harry Potter or Princess Diaries, it’s the perfect time to take a look at some upcoming kids titles showing strong screen potential.
Right now, the Young Adult category for tween/teen girls remains hot, hot, hot. In fact, most kids publishers point to it as their biggest area of growth. Simon & Schuster’s Children’s Book division president Rick Richter says his company’s teen title sales at major U.S. book chains have been up by 30% for the past three years running.
Scholastic’s VP and editorial director of paperback books Craig Walker says YA’s recent success (think hit series Gossip Girl, which was recently optioned by Warner Bros.) has compelled Scholastic to get into the category for the first time. ‘Frankly, it’s a little ingenuous to think that teen girls don’t read things with sexual content,’ he says.
Summer Boys is Scholastic’s first effort in this new universe. It’s a ‘sexy romance’ that could easily be a movie, says Walker. The novel tells the story of four female cousins who vacation together every summer at the beach. One is sexually experienced, one a novice, and the other jealous of her sister’s seeming prowess in the dating arena. Readers follow their concurrent stories as they deal with first-time sexual experience and discover the difference between fair-weather summer boys and long-term love interests.
Richter points to S&S’s The Virginity Club as this season’s most likely YA candidate for big-screen treatment. A group of high-school girls – vying for a scholarship awarded to a student who exemplifies ‘purity of soul, spirit and body’ – form The Virginity Club to keep their purity intact. But it’s not as simple as it seems; insecurities run rampant, and secrets are revealed as the girls struggle to learn the real meaning of virtue.
From Random House Children’s Books, comedy series Girl, 15 by Susan Limb is set to debut this fall. The first title, Charming but Insane, introduces readers to Jess Jordan. Her butt’s too big, her chest is too flat, and her best friend is the Goddess Flora, whose beauty only makes Jess feel more awkward. At home, Jess is surrounded by loonies. Her death-obsessed grandmother is sharing her room, and her father sends her daily ‘horrorscopes’ such as ‘You will fall asleep with your mouth open, and a family of earwigs will move in.’ And to top it all off, her homemade minestrone soup-filled bra stuffers explode while she’s trying to impress the boy of her dreams at a party.
On a more serious note, HarperCollins is offering up Shooter by Walter Dean Myers. The novel focuses on three kids who go on a Columbine-like shooting rampage, and VP of subsidiary rights Joan Rosen says it’s garnering a lot of studio interest. Particularly wrenching are the post-shooting police interrogation scenes in which the lone female member of the group is accused of using her sexuality to egg on Leonard, the now-dead ringleader.
As the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter juggernauts keep rolling, fantasy continues to be fertile ground for kids publishers and producers alike. Set for a fall 2004 release, S&S’s The Sea of Trolls by three-time Newbery winner Nancy Farmer takes us to eighth-century England, the time of the first Viking raids. There we find young Jack, a farmer’s son apprenticed to the village bard, who is quickly dispatched by the henchmen of the evil half-troll Queen Frith. This leaves Jack to defend the village on his own. Unfortunately, he and his sister are captured by Olaf One-Brow and taken to the court of Queen Frith and Ivar the Boneless, where Jack casts a half-baked spell on the queen and is then sent on a quest to the kingdom of the trolls to figure out how to reverse it.
Random House is touting British writer Steve Augarde’s upcoming trilogy as a Lord of the Rings for the under-12 set. Lead-off title The Various depicts 11-year-old Midge’s summer spent with a band of woodland fairies who are strange, wild, secretive and sometimes deadly. The fairies’ farmland habitat is under threat from humans who want to turn it into a shopping mall, so they team up with Midge to prevent it from happening.
There’s plenty going on in middle-grade fiction for eight- to 12-year-olds. S&S’s Richter likens the kid empowerment theme in e.l. konigsburg’s The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place to Louis Sachar’s Holes – the film version of which made a splash on big screens in 2003, grossing US$67 million. Aimed at kids 10 and up, the book focuses on 12-year-old social misfit Margaret Rose Kane. For the last 45 years, Margaret’s great uncles have been building three giant towers fashioned from scrap metal, glass and porcelain in their backyard. The neighbors are appalled by the ‘unsightly’ sculptures and petition city council to have them destroyed. To Margaret, the towers are great works of art that must be preserved, and she fights tooth and nail to ensure they’re not harmed.
Also taking kid power seriously is Andrew Clements’ The Report Card from S&S, launching with a 100,000-copy print run in April. Richter says this book is getting a lot of press State-side because it takes on the issue of standardized testing in schools. The book stars Nora Rowley, a smart kid with a learning disabled brother. Nora doesn’t want to make her brother feel inferior; in fact, she wants to prove that grades and test scores don’t mean as much as adults believe they do. She deliberately starts failing the standard tests and comes home with a report card loaded with Ds that sends the school and her parents into a tizzy.
In a more comic vein, there’s HarperCollins’ new series The Stink Files by Jennifer Holm and Jonathan Hamel, set to debut this summer. The first book, Dossier 001: The Postman Always Brings Mice, establishes the story. Pet cat Edward James Bristlefur’s British secret service agent master dies after eating a poisoned shortbread cookie. Through a string of mishaps, Bristlefur gets shipped to a new home in Newark, New Jersey, where he is promptly christened Mr. Stink by his new owners. This new and somewhat irksome name does not stop his quest to find his original master’s killer. A second novel, The Stink Files, Dossier 002: To Scratch a Thief, will be in stores around the same time.
Also trading on the theme of four-legged detectives is Geronimo Stilton. Originally published in Italian, Scholastic U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia are releasing the series about intrepid mouse reporter Geronimo Stilton in English and will be issuing new editions on a monthly basis for the next two years. Scholastic’s Walker says Warner Bros. has shown interest in film rights, which are controlled by the series’ original Italian publisher Piemme, but no firm deal had been signed at press time.
Walker says it’s the series’ humor that has moved more than four million copies in Italy. Along with being an active investigative journalist who goes on many adventures, Geronimo loves to collect and tell jokes, especially the type of corny puns eight-year-olds love. The first four books – The Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye, The Curse of the Cheese Pyramid, Cat and Mouse in a Haunted House and I’m too Fond of My Fur – went into circulation in late February.
High comedy is expected from Wendelin Van Draanen’s new series Shredderman, published by Random House imprint Alfred A. Knopf. Seven books are planned, and the first one, Shredderman 1: Secret Identity, hits shelves this summer. What’s a grade-school nerd to do? Puny power-walking Nolan Byrd knows he can’t compete with hulking bully Alvin ‘Bubba’ Bixby’s brawn, so he takes him on in the brains department. Nolan decides he’ll write an exposé on Bubba’s playground misdeeds and begins posting the details on his website www.shredderman.com. Revenge of the techno-nerd, indeed.
Girls, in particular, might get a good chuckle out of Scholastic’s Princess School by Sara Heinz and Jane Mason. The first volume, If the Shoe Fits, debuts in June and features Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty attending junior high for princesses. Snow White is a frumpy dresser, but argues that it’s hard to come by high fashion when you’re living with dwarves. Cinderella’s evil stepmom is head of the PTA at the rival school for children of wicked witches, warlocks and all-around evil people. And of course all the girls have to contend with the trials of Frog Identification Class. Who knew figuring out the difference between a frog prince and a real frog would be so hard?
On the other hand, getting boys (even as early as the middle grades) to read is becoming more difficult. Valerie Hussey, president of Canadian pubco Kids Can Press, says publishers are concerned about losing boy readers to video games at an earlier age every year. S&S’s Richter is more hopeful. He says the comeback of fantasy and sci-fi is helping his company hold onto boy readers, and the real problem is still creating books that will captivate their ever-shortening attention spans.
To that end, action books are becoming the genre of choice for reaching boy readers, and we know they gravitate to this kind of content on screens. A promising entry in this realm is new Penguin series Diamond Brothers Mysteries by Anthony Horowitz. Horowitz has already had success with his Tom-Clancy-for-the-junior-set series about adventurer Alex Rider, selling about 250,000 copies per title in the U.K.
Set for a fall debut, Diamond Brothers introduces young readers to Tim and Nick Diamond. Tim is ‘unbelievably dim,’ but his younger brother Nick helps him out of numerous scrapes that include being framed for jewel theft, a stint in juvenile prison and encounters with Ma Powers and her evil gang, not to mention diffusing a ticking time bomb.
Kids Can Press – which has just optioned The Mob (set for fall 2004 publication) to sister company Nelvana – is zeroing in on kids’ fascination with home décor with Stuff for Your Space, a how-to book for kids looking to spruce up their turf. Hussey says she’s hoping to spotlight Stuff’s author Ellen Warwick on national decorating shows and can foresee a series devoted to the subject.
Tapping into the arts & crafts trend, The Jumbo Book of Art hit Canadian stores with a very aggressive print run of 40,000 copies in late 2003. Hussey envisions its on-screen incarnation as a variation of existing kids art shows, with the book’s illustrated mascot taking kids around the world to look at the great masterpieces and teaching them the basics one step at a time.