6 Banned Books in Search of a Director

Ever wonder why lists of banned books are almost exclusively young adult novels? Well, other than the fact that nearly every book aimed at adults possesses what one might call “adult” subject matter and would therefore theoretically insult someone at some level, efforts to challenge books have mostly gained notoriety in formative schooling. As you know, the PTA is one of the most powerful lobbies in kid congress.

Few are the book burners who tend to make an argument against tomes like Ulysses or Sons and Lovers, because novels like that end up on the shelves of a much more mature audience, or at least one where the heathens are paying private tuition. The lists of banned books accrued by the American Library Association is a fascinating mish-mosh of books about adolescence, narratives about war, and, of course, wizards. I personally implore everyone to check it out here. And while you’re at it, see how the books at the top of the list seem to coincide with the hot button political and moral issues of the times by noting the difference in rankings during each decade.

Needless to say, any book that finds itself at the center of controversy, young adult or not, is going to have a few fans in Hollywood. Many have become huge hits: the Harry Potter series, The Color Purple, To Kill a Mockingbird. But a few, despite having legions of fans and solid plots ripe for the picking, have fallen through the cracks in the annals of film adaptation history. Here’s a wish list of six books in search of a director whose controversial beginnings weren’t quite enough to give them a screen birth.

Forever by Judy Blume (1975)
There is a theory that proffers that the concept of an “inner life” did not exist in literary figures until the invention of Hamlet. This is bogus. We all know that Judy Blume invented it. She may be best known for Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, but 1975’s Forever is the one most likely to be seen on a banned book list. Why? Well, the usual. Frank themes of sexuality, yada yada yada. Yet the simplicity of the plot, centering on the travails of high school sweethearts and the physical/emotional dichotomy of sex, could lend itself marvelously well to a modern auteur. Disregarding the dated TV version from 1978, Sophia Coppola could nail the cinematic debut of Forever.

My Brother Sam Is Dead by Christopher Collier and James Collier (1974)
Oddly enough, My Brother Sam Is Dead never got a shot to land among the great war epics of our time. Authors James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier wove a tale of family strife in a divided household during the American Revolution that ends in ignoble violence. Though it’s been his calling card to go big or go home, Roland Emmerich has been zoning in on smaller stories (“Stonewall”) and domestic tales (“Anonymous”) of late. This, combined with his previous experience in filming the Revolutionary War from a family’s point of view (“The Patriot”), makes him a fitting candidate to bring Sam back to life.

The Pigman by Paul Zindel (1968)
The Pigman has rarely been revived for a place on eighth-grade reading lists in the past thirty years, but it was the hot ticket of the late 1960s. Telling a somewhat bizarre tale of cross-generational friendship and baboons, it was novelist Paul Zindel’s biggest hit, even though – cover your ears! – it included adult themes. At times strange and at times saccharine, it would perhaps be best adapted in the hands of someone adept at finding a comedic darkness within its pages. Remembering 2009’s “World’s Greatest Dad,” we heartily volunteer Bobcat Goldthwaite to take up the reins.

King and King by Linda De Haan and Stern Nijland (2002)
This Dutch children’s book about a prince who isn’t interested in princesses found notoriety among those who rejected its LGBTQ plot. Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland’s epic tale could enjoy a rapturous screen birth if handled by someone with the nuanced skills of combining sensitive subject matter with unbridled humor and joy. Enter Pete Docter, the magician most recently seen pulling a rabbit out of a hat in “Inside Out.”

In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak (1970)
One might say that Guillermo del Toro is a man of monsters, but they’d be neglecting the reason why so many of his films, including “Pan’s Labyrinth,” are so compelling – he filters darkness through the prism of a child’s imagination. Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen, which caught flack for its cartoon nudity and themes of cannibalism, could do well in his hands.

The Boy Who Lost His Face by Louis Sachar (1989)
Louis Sachar’s tale of a boy who begins to be afflicted with all sorts of humiliating ordeals after he bullies an old woman finds plenty of common ground with the work of Spike Jonze: a master at atomizing people into their most humiliating selves (see “Being John Malkovich”).

Learn more about these books below.