Stop Dumbing Down Adaptations of Kids' Books

The books were butchered. It was hard to watch my beloved novels given such disrespectful treatment.

When I saw Scaredy Squirrel was being made into a TV show, I was psyched. Mélanie Watt is brilliant. The Scaredy Squirrel series of books is arguably one of the cleverest publications in children’s book history. The books are smart. They’re witty and unexpected. Scaredy Squirrel is such a well fleshed out character, with depth and nuances that are rare in a book for children. How could I not be excited that this stunning piece of literature would be joining the well-established tradition of TV show-book partnerships?

I hyped my Scaredy-Squirrel-loving son up for its premiere. Finally, the day arrived. Let’s just sit back and watch this example of literary…crap. Wait, what was this on my screen? Some doofy looking squirrel that didn’t come close to resembling the real deal. And what is with all the slapstick? Goofy, substance-free, stories on my screen did a grave disservice to the wit and candor of the books. Where was the depth? The endearment? Anything that said “based on a quality children’s book” was buried deep beneath general silliness.

We were disappointed. At least we still had the books. Not every adaptation can be a winner. Oh well.

Then I heard of an impending new show that put Scaredy Squirrel to shame. Bunnicula! Oh, joyous day! If Scaredy Squirrel is clever, Bunnicula is flat out brilliant. Besides an amazing story and concept, the books are filled with delicious language and description. I pored over each word as a child. The imagery in the books plus the depth of the characters made for a timeless classic. This could only be good.

Nope. The Bunnicula cartoon makes Scaredy Squirrel look like Shakespeare. The intricate and distinguished characters were reduced to caricatures. The books were butchered. It was hard to watch my beloved novels given such disrespectful treatment.

I’m not saying the shows in and of themselves are bad. They have sort of a My Pet Monster feel to them, and we all know we loved that show growing up. Not every kids’ show has to be educational, there is room for silly for the sake of silly. Silly is important to childhood.

But there is something to be said for retaining the integrity of children’s books. When you take a multidimensional work of literature and “dumb it down” for TV, that does a disservice to our children. It tells them we don’t think they can handle the more in-depth versions, and it deprives them of the opportunity to view the work of dynamic authors in a new way.

They miss experiencing the relationship between the show and the book. They lose consistency with the beloved characters. There’s a disconnect.

Silly shows are great. Make them. I will happily allow my children to watch them. But be original with them. There is no need to desecrate quality works of art to make a mindless show.

And if you come for The Very Hungry Caterpillar, you better run.




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Heather M. Jones is a mom of 2 from Toronto. When not writing, she can be found reading, worrying, and spending way too much time on Facebook.