Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Beyond Goosebumps: How we’d bring 14 classic YA book series into 2015

Illustration by Nick Wanserski

God forbid that the most beloved (and profitable) YA series ever die. Sure, the Boxcar Children have been around since the ’20s, but add a few cell phones and recruit some new ghostwriters, and those kids can be just as fresh and timely as they were almost a century ago. And while R.L. Stine’s original Goosebumps series was only published from 1992 to 1997, today’s children were still reading the books their parents loved. So moviemakers found a way to refresh the series and bring it back to the present day through the upcoming Jack Black film. And yet another re-launch of the old series is in the works.

With that in mind, The A.V. Club decided to tackle some more beloved YA series, figuring out how we’d bring them into the 21st century, whether as a newly revamped series of books, a film, a video game, or even a mobile app. Publishers and intellectual property holders: Take note.


1. The Baby-Sitters Club: Mobile game

With a movie, a TV series, and a set of graphic novels under its belt already, The Baby-Sitters Club series has been through the spin-off wringer. That being said, there’s still one more way to get both young people and adults back into the series: a mobile game. Picture The Baby-Sitters Club done as sort of a youth-accessible Kim Kardashian Hollywood, with users encouraged to join Kristy, Stacey, Claudia, and the gang as the Baby-Sitters Club’s newest member. You’d then receive tasks. Some are simple, like “hang up flyers,” which would take you on a trip around virtual Stoneybrook. Others, like “spend eight hours with the Rodowskys,” will require more patience and time, though you’ll also earn some virtual coin. The more time (and money) you spend with the game, the more jobs you’ll have, and the better your BSC reputation will become. You’ll be able to interact with both real and fake friends online, pick up some bland fake Connecticut boyfriends, and while, truly, only Kristy Thomas can be the BSC’s bossy-ass president, play the game long enough and you could be the one to take the club international. Scholastic Books and Ann M. Martin, call us. Until then, consider this idea copyrighted. [Marah Eakin]

2. Animorphs: Role-playing game


K.A. Applegate’s series of young adult novels covered a vast array of themes—adolescent alienation, struggles of young love, the horrors of taking life. But at its core was the engaging idea of turning into animals to combat an alien invasion. That idea is loaded with potential for a role-playing game, built around a series of missions that require players to acquire certain animal forms to accomplish their objectives. Identifying the right animal for the task and figuring out how to acquire it creates constant sidequests (not everything can be found at your local zoo), and as players identify their strengths it’s easy to see them specializing into certain morphs. There are rhinos and bears for the aggressive types, hawks and roaches for the scouts, highly venomous snakes for the potential assassins, and every single one requires a different level of adjustment to the animal’s innate personality. And the dangerous caveat of the morphing gift—the fact that staying in a certain animal form for more than two hours traps you in the form of that animal—expands the roleplaying aspect tremendously for players who don’t pay enough attention to the clock. [Les Chappell]

3. Sweet Valley High: YouTube channel

The delightful webseries The Lizzie Bennet Diaries kicked off a wave of literary-inspired adaptations told in vlog (video blog) format. So far these have mostly stuck with erudite source material (think Much Ado About Nothing, Emma, and Little Women), but the medium should try pulling inspiration from a soapier world, like the dramatic ecosphere of Sweet Valley High. The joint YouTube channel run by twins Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield would serve as the hub for the series, while the girls’ various classmates like Todd, Enid, and Lila would have their own spin-off channels. With a transmedia component in which the characters also interact on Twitter and Instagram, the whole enterprise would capture the fraught reality of living your awkward teen years in an era of social media—like the time Winston accidentally tweeted about his crush on Jessica. [Caroline Siede]


4. Tamora Pierce’s The Song Of The Lioness: CW TV series


Two of the most popular concepts right now are Game Of Thrones-esque medieval fantasy worlds and female-driven action properties. Rather than scramble to combine the two, TV executives need look no further for inspiration than Tamora Pierce’s captivating Song Of The Lioness series. Tomboy noblewoman Alanna disguises herself as a boy and exchanges places with her twin brother so she can train for knighthood as “Squire Alan” while he goes off to study magic. During her education, Alanna befriends master thieves and material-arts experts and even develops her own magical abilities. In other words, it’s basically a less-depressing version of Arya’s arc from Game Of Thrones. So assemble an impossibly attractive cast, throw some real money behind it, and launch The Song Of The Lioness TV series on The CW—it’s almost guaranteed to be a hit. [Caroline Siede]

5. The American Girl books: PBS history TV series


Forget the dolls they’re meant to sell: True nerds know the companion books are the best thing about the American Girl brand. The short stories give context to the trials and tribulations a girl might face in Revolutionary War-era Virginia, Mexico-owned New Mexico, turn-of-the-century New York, a 19th-century Swedish immigrant community, or—most questionably—a slave plantation. While the stories themselves are fine, it’s their insight into American history that makes them special. So PBS would be smart to turn the concept into a family-friendly TV series aimed at educating kids about history. By alternating episodes featuring the adventures of Felicity, Josefina, Samantha, Kirsten, Addy, and the rest of the American Girls, kids (and their parents) could better understand the arc of American history and the struggles girls like these have faced throughout it. [Caroline Siede]

6. Little House On The Prairie: Graphic novels

Unlike the soapy TV show it inspired, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series is a study in Midwestern geography circa the late 1800s. Thanks to her father’s insane desire to move every few years, Laura and her family lived not only on the Kansas prairie, but also in the big woods of Wisconsin, by the banks of Plum Creek in Minnesota, on the shores of Silver Lake in South Dakota, and in the nearby small town of De Smet. To help contemporary kids visualize Wilder’s world, all nine of her books should be adapted into graphic novels. Wilder’s prose is already incredibly descriptive and a graphic novel would help bring those evocative passages to life. In gorgeous full-color drawings, the series would quite literally illustrate the realties of frontier life: from traveling by covered wagon to living through a locust plague to making a balloon out of a pig’s bladder. [Caroline Siede]


7. Avi’s Poppy series: Animated TV series


It doesn’t really matter exactly what happened in Avi’s Tales From Dimwood Forest series, which included the books Poppy, Poppy & Rye, Ragweed, Ereth’s Birthday, Poppy’s Return, and Poppy & Ereth. What matters is that the novels imagined a whimsical, high-stakes world of mice, owls, and other woodland creatures. And since rodents have long been a favorite subject matter of animators, a new creative team should launch an animated TV show set in Avi’s world. Forget the original plot and just have fun creating new stories about brave deer mouse Poppy, adventurous golden mouse Ragweed, prickly porcupine Ereth, and tyrannical owl Ocax. Hey, it worked for The Secret Of NIMH movie. [Caroline Siede]

8. A Wrinkle In Time: Movie adaptation


With female-led YA adaptations making bank at the box office, now is the perfect time for a proper big screen adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time (unlike the weak 2003 adaptation). Though chock-full of action, this adaptation wouldn’t dumb down the source material. Instead it would embrace the heady sci-fi aspects of the story—including fifth-dimensional travel via tesseract—as well as its social, political, and spiritual commentary. Get someone like Ex Machina’s Alex Garland to write and direct it, cast Amandla Stenberg as Meg Murry, and sit back and relax as it becomes the next Hunger Games. (In fact, Disney may be doing just that.) [Caroline Siede]

9. His Dark Materials: HBO Miniseries

Philip Pullman’s magnum opus—the His Dark Materials trilogy—deserves far better than the so-so film adaptation it got in 2007. So turn The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass into an expansive miniseries with plenty of room to explore the series’ complex examination of religion, political corruption, identity, destiny, and sex. Divide each book into three parts and air the whole thing over only a couple of weekends so that it really feels like an event. HBO’s high-production values would be perfect for bringing the series to life. And with no advertisers to appease, the network wouldn’t feel the need to rework the story into a family-friendly adventure and would instead ensure Lyra Belacqua’s journey remains just as violent, unsettling, and dark as it is in the original novels. [Caroline Siede]


10. Nancy Drew: Podcast


Serial taught us that podcast listeners love a mystery, so who better to lead a podcast series than Nancy Drew? A Nancy Drew podcast could dramatize cases like The Mystery At Lilac Inn or The Secret Of The Old Clock (let’s keep it to the classics, please, none of this later-day Nancy Drew On Campus nonsense). Each episode would end on a typical Nancy Drew cliffhanger, naturally: She’s locked in a closet! She’s trapped in a burning barn! The thieves (and they are always thieves) are getting away! The Nancy Drew podcast could help open up the younger crowd to the world of podcasts (upside: less screen time) while offering an attractive option for long car trips. There’s a reason Ms. Drew has been solving mysteries for decades, after all. [Gwen Ihnat]

11. The Chronicles Of Prydain: TV series


In the pre-Harry Potter fantasy YA canon, Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles Of Prydain are a standout, recently cited as “the best fantasy/adventure series written for young people.” While much of the Prydain series seems to be a conventional fantasy about an unassuming young man who becomes a kingdom’s hero, falls in love with the princess, and so on, it has a special tone of sadness and introspection. That’s most apparent in the series’ genius fourth book, Taran Wanderer, in which the hero drops everything to travel and find himself. It’s clever, elegiac, and most importantly for a potential reboot, it’s episodic. A Prydain television series could weave the structure and tone of Taran Wanderer throughout, for a potentially great visual young adult fantasy story. And it would go a long way toward helping everyone forget about the disastrous first attempt at adaptation. [Rowan Kaiser]

12. The Hunger Games: Multiplayer videogame


Google “Hunger Games videogame,” and you’ll see no actual official professional licensed products, but plenty of ideas of what a Hunger Games game should look like, from visual mockups to lengthy descriptions of how gameplay might work. Plenty of people want to see a game based on Suzanne Collins’ YA novels and the resulting movie adaptations. But it’s worth noting that a lot of these game ideas presume that the player would be badass series protagonist Katniss Everdeen, rather than any of the teenagers she mows down or angsts over throughout the series. Here’s a more egalitarian idea that would better approximate the oppressive setting and potential for individual heroism from the books: Hunger Games as an MMORPG. Players would log in and create a character, who would be randomly assigned a District, receiving appropriate starting skills in hunting, fishing, mining, murdering, etc. Then they’d have a week to train the hell out of that character, to further develop skills of their choice. After a week of logged training time, a player would be drafted into an iteration of The Hunger Games, along with 23 other randomly selected characters, two from each district. Players would get a set period of combat training, strategizing with fellow draftees, and working to create alliances. Then they’d be thrown into a series of real-time free-for-all combats, and try to survive. All combat would be iron-man style: A dead character is permanently dead, and players have to start from scratch. It’d be the ultimate free-form competition, with no way to buy up stats or pay for special equipment. The game would just reward skill, luck, ruthlessness, planning, and a lot of free time to be online messing with the details. [Tasha Robinson]

13. Harry Potter: Tabletop role-playing game


In 2011, J.K. Rowling turned her blockbuster Harry Potter series into an online game, Pottermore, that lets you relive exactly what happened in the books. That’s great and all, but part of the joy of her series of books is everything that doesn’t happen on the page. Throughout the series, we get a widening glimpse into a much larger world of magical things Harry (and we) don’t get to experience. That magical world is potentially limitless, so what better way to explore it than with an open-ended tabletop role-playing game (i.e., dice, not mice)? You could go with the tried-and-true and play Hogwarts students, but you could also travel the world hunting down magical creatures or dark wizards, or play in the past and fight in the goblin wars. Or come up with your own answer to one of Potter’s most enduring questions: What exactly do adult wizards do if they’re not teachers or civil servants? [Mike Vago]

14. Encyclopedia Brown: Mobile game


Leroy “Encyclopedia” Brown, star of Donald J. Sobol’s young-adult book series, was a kid-lit hero any Adderall addict could appreciate. His adventures—one- or two-page mysteries, invariably solved by identifying logical or factual errors—rewarded both intense concentration and miniscule attention spans. To conquer one of his short-story collections was to perform a kind of detective-fiction lightning round, with imaginary points awarded for the speed in which you caught up to Brown’s Sherlockian deductions. So no wonder past attempts to transport the young sleuth to other media were short-lived: How could a comic strip or an HBO series hope to capture the uniquely immediate experience of closing one of Encyclopedia’s investigations in real time? A mobile game, by contrast, might be the ideal new format for the boy genius, allowing sharp kids—or nostalgic millennials—to crack a few quick cases during their morning commute. Extra incentive for any game developers thinking of angling for the rights: The posted policy of Brown’s makeshift detective agency—“25 cents per day, plus expenses”—is practically a built-in freemium pricing strategy. [A.A. Dowd]

Share This Story

Get our newsletter