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Children’s books LIVE!

Two weeks ago Peter and the Starcatcher won five Tony Awards, including best performance by an actor in a featured role. The play, which is based on Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s Peter Pan prequel series, received nine total nominations.

This children’s literature/theater connection sparked my curiosity, so I did a little research on the topic. Broadway is currently running three other shows with ties to children’s books: Mary Poppins, a theatrical adaptation of the Disney film, itself loosely based on the P. L. Travers novel; War Horse, based on the middle-grade novel by Michael Morpurgo and winner of last year’s Tony Award for best play; and Wicked, the hit musical about the witches of Oz, based on Gregory Maguire’s adult book of the same name, which was inspired by L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Off-Broadway, there are even more children’s book–based shows: The Berenstain Bears LIVE! in Family Matters, The Musical; Freckleface Strawberry, The Musical (based on picture books by Julianne Moore); Into the Woods (Sondheim’s long-running, Tony Award–winning reimagining of classic fairy tales); and Potted Potter.

And that’s just what’s playing in NYC! A quick Google search brings up regional productions of shows such as Seussical; Little Women; Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day: A Musical; James and the Giant Peach; Peter Pan; and Charlotte’s Web.

Adapting books for the theater makes sense because it taps into an existing fan base. But I think adapting children’s books for the stage does something more: it provides kids with an early introduction and connection to the enriching world of live theater, perhaps sparking a lifelong appreciation for and interest in the arts. For parents looking for summer activities to do with their kids, this type of entertainment should fit the (play)bill.

Do you know of other children’s books that have been turned into plays or musicals? Which children’s books or young adult novels would you like to see adapted for the theater?

Cynthia K. Ritter About Cynthia K. Ritter

Cynthia K. Ritter is associate editor of The Horn Book Guide. She earned a master's degree in children's literature from Simmons College.



  1. Katie Bircher Katie Bircher says:

    I’m horribly disappointed to have missed this “immersive dance theater performance” of The Graveyard Book put on by Harvard a few months ago.

  2. Cynthia K. Ritter Cynthia K. Ritter says:

    I’m also bummed because I’ll be up on Prince Edward Island this summer, but not on the right days to go see Anne of Green Gables the Musical at the Charlottetown Festival – it would have been the perfect place to see that show!

  3. Matilda, the musical looks amazing. Huge hit in London, coming to Bway next spring.

  4. Cynthia K. Ritter Cynthia K. Ritter says:

    And is it my imagination or hasn’t there been a substantial increase in recent years in the number of theater productions being created based on children’s books? I wonder what’s made the theater world take a greater interest in this type of adaptation?

  5. Elissa Gershowitz Elissa Gershowitz says:

    I’m also curious about Peter and the Star Catcher because the Guide does NOT like those Dave Barry/Ridley Pearson books. And because the guy from Smash is in it!

  6. Francesca Mellin says:

    I’ve seen the musical based on The Secret Garden several times and love the music. It won several Tonies back in 1991 and featured Mandy Patinkin.

  7. I saw Peter and the Starcatcher last year (before its move to Broadway) and thought it completely delightful The guy now in Smash (Christine Boral) was fantastic. In fact, I can’t watch him in Smash without thinking of his over-the-top mugging (the show is more or less in the style of British musical hall).

    There is also a West End (London) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory production in the works.

  8. “A Year with Frog and Toad” debuted at the Minneapolis Children’s Theatre in 2002 and moved on to NY. I’ll second loving “The Secret Garden.” ( I consider the cast album of the 2001 London production to be the best, but Anthony Warlow and Philip Quast singing “Lily’s Eyes” is a magnificent thing.)

  9. Middle grade novel The Great American Mousical will be having its stage debut in November, as a musical. I’m looking forward to seeing how they stage it.

  10. Bethann says:

    Take a look at the DC theater scene – there are several theater companies, including Imagination Stage and others, that develop plays and musicals for kids. I think some recent productions have been based on Alice in Wonderland and another on The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (I think there’s a production of that in London too – I saw an article about the Duchess of Cambridge attending it).

  11. Kazia Berkley-Cramer says:

    I’m always disappointed I never got to see a stage production of the Golden Compass (I think it was in England for a while but never came here?), which seems like it would be difficult to adapt. (P.S. I’m excited to see Peter and the Starcatchers soon but also a bit apprehensive as a big fan of Peter Pan…).

  12. A couple of years ago, the Coolidge Corner Theater showed a simulcast of Terry Pratchett’s Nation. That storm would’ve been something to see on stage.

  13. I went to London just to see the National Theatre’s production of His Dark Materials and it was splendid. You can get a taste of it here:

  14. Jenny Schwartzberg says:

    Chicago’s Lifeline Theatre does wonderful adaptations of both adult and children’s books. Its new season was just announced and the KidsSeries will include Duck for President, The Mystery of the Pirate Ghost, and The Emperor’s Groovy New Clothes: A Fashion Statement. If you are in Chicago during the season, check the plays out! Other local theatres also do good children’s plays.

  15. Thx for sharing such a informative and useful post.It will surely usefull to my little kid.Really amazing and great!

  16. We’ve been going to the Lifeline Theater for years and particularly enjoy their Georgette Heyer adaptations, but one of the very first theater experiences I remember is going to their production of A Wrinkle in Time for my birthday party in about 6th grade or so. It was amazing and what I thought about right away when reading this post.

  17. Jenny Schwartzberg says:

    Jen B., I was at that amazing production of A Wrinkle in Time by Lifeline too! That’s what I always think of when I’m asked about children’s theater. I wish they would re-stage it!

  18. louyise says:

    Louise Builds a Boat was made into a play by Theatre of the Deaf, in the early 1990s here in Australia – fantastic!

  19. Elissa Gershowitz Elissa Gershowitz says:

    There’s a new touring production based on the animated movie (based on the books) of How to Tame Your Dragon — featuring “real” dragons!

  20. Elissa Gershowitz Elissa Gershowitz says:

    Sorry — “Train” not “Tame” 🙂

  21. mary anjali says:

    I just finished reading “The fault in our stars” by John Green. The main idea is about a young girl who has terminal cancer, although she is set to die she has yet to experience “love”. She gets her chance when she meets Augustus who turns her world upside down. It would be interesting to see how they could take such a depressing storyline, which is written with a humorous tone and turn it into a play. I really think it would resonate with the millions of cancer survivors or patients that can relate to the main character’s feelings.

  22. Kazia Berkley-Cramer says:

    Not going to lie, when I watched those clips from His Dark Materials I might’ve gotten a little teary at the perfection of the adaptation. If only it were available to watch in full… P.S. I agree that TFiOS has potential for a beautiful play.

  23. I just found out that this fall the Chicago Children’s Theatre will be staging a production of Crockett Johnson’s “Harold and the Purple Crayon”:

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