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The Disney classic Beauty and the Beast comes out in 3-D today, one of a number of our favorite kids' books that are moving to the silver screen this year. But before you rush off to see the film renditions, take some time to revisit the books that took our younger selves on adventures to worlds where animals talked, magic was real, and stories always had happy endings. Some adolescent classics are in the mix as well, so get ready for some fast-paced adventures filled with drama and romance. Once you re-read the books, you'll be able to decide whether the movie lived up. And if you didn't know Beauty and the Beast was a book before it was a musical, now's your chance to catch up.
The Beauty and the Beast
By Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont
28 pages. Forgotten Books. $6.32.
Beauty and the Beast in 3D film release: January 13
While the words “Beauty and the Beast” might immediately conjure up images of Disney’s animated musical, the movie is actually a rendition of a classic French fairy tale from the 1700s. In Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont's tale, Beauty is the youngest, kindest, and loveliest daughter of a ruined merchant. She has two jealous older sisters, three older brothers, and a love for roses and singing while spinning. After her father makes a foolish mistake of picking a rose at the Beast's castle, Beauty becomes the key to saving her father's life—by becoming the Beast's prisoner. In just 28 pages, we learn that the Beast, though a frightening monster in appearance, actually is a hopeless, slightly obsessive romantic (He tries to starve himself to death when Beauty visits home). The book doesn't have the heartthrob Gaston or a cheerful ensemble of singing tea kettles, but the "happily ever after" theme is the same.
By Dr. Seuss
72 pages. Random House. $10.17
The Lorax film release: March 2
The go-to book for tree-huggers, Seuss-lovers, and children of all ages, the environmental-friendly brainchild of the cherished master of childhood rhyme bursts with melodious made-up words, pops of vivid color, and a lasting message: Please be nice to Mother Nature (and save the fluffy Truffala trees.) Through the words of the regretful Once-ler, we learn of the yellow, mustached Lorax, who famously declares, "I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues." Readers gradually follow the horrifying destruction of the lively world of Truffala Trees, Swomee Swans, Humming Fishes, and Brown Bar-ba-loots, which ultimately becomes a smoggy, silent, pollution-ridden wasteland. But amidst the darkness, there's hope: The Once-ler drops down the last of a Truffula Seed and suggests that "the Lorax and his friends may all come back" one day.
By Mary Norton, Beth Krush, and Joe Krush
192 pages. Sandpiper. $6.99
The Secret World of Arrietty film release: February 17
How would you react if you saw a match-sized human scurrying across your kitchen table? In Mary Norton's fictional world, the child known as "the Boy" who comes face-to-face with tiny humans is sweet and warm. We meet Arrietty Clock, a spunky teen "Borrower," who lives under the floorboards and loves meeting new folks—whether big or little—much to the horror of her family. Through her friendship with the Boy, we learn about the mysteriously awesome lives of the Clocks, a family of borrowers who sleep in matchbox beds and wield pin needles for self-defense.
The Hunger Games
By Suzanne Collins
384 pages. Scholastic Press. $5.39
The Hunger Games film release: March 23
It's been hailed as the new Twilight, but this young-adult book stays far away from fanged bloodsuckers and magical realms. Welcome to Panem, a post-apocalyptic North America, where two young representatives from each of 12 districts are chosen to fight for their lives in an annual live television show called The Hunger Games. The heroine is Katniss, a 16-year-old girl who decides to take the place of her younger sister in the Games. While Katniss becomes entirely engrossed in the quest for survival and audience approval, her male partner, Peeta, clings to his humanity. This fast-paced series is also chock-full of the requisite young adult themes: love, drama, and death.
Life of Pi
By Yann Martel
326 pages. Mariner Books. $10.85
Yann Martel's work is a wonderfully deep, imaginative adventure. When 16-year-old Pi Patel's family decides to uproot their life and menagerie in India to sail to Canada, a freak accident happens: The ship sinks, and Pi finds himself in an even scarier situation: He's on a 26-foot-long life raft in the Pacific Ocean with a hyena, an orangutan, an injured zebra and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Patel is a precocious narrator, who uses everything he's learned in his 16 years of life to stay alive alongside a starving feline beast that could devour him any second. Part adventure, part thriller, part philosophical pondering, Life of Pi questions what we believe to be the "truth."
The Wind in the Willows
By Kenneth Grahame
200 pages. Simon & Brown. $9.99
The Wind in the Willows film release: TBD
Venture down by the riverbanks of the English countryside, and relive the adventures of a wonderfully charming group of critter friends: the pompous Mr. Toad, who fancies houseboats and horse-drawn carriages; the ever-pleasant, timid Mole, who engages in spring cleaning; the adventurous river-lover Ratty; and the curmudgeonly but loving Badger. Join them on their enchanting misadventures as they save Mr. Toad from prison after he steals a motor car, and rescue Toad Hall from a ragtag group of Weasels and Ferrets.