June 7, 2011 / 8:13 PM / 6 years ago

"Judy Moody" children's books find new life on film

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Popular books usually make good candidates for movies. But the producers behind "Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer" decided to create an entirely original adventure for the mischievous third grader's big screen debut.

The "Judy Moody" book series, created by U.S. author Megan McDonald, have sold more than 14 million copies and been translated into 22 languages since first appearing in 2000.

Producer Sarah Siegel-Magness became a fan after reading with her young daughter the books about the famously moody eight-year-old who collects scabs and never brushes her hair.

She and her husband Gary Magness -- the producers and financiers behind the dark Oscar-nominated movie "Precious" -- optioned the film rights from independent book publisher Candlewick Press.

But rather than adapting one of the nine books directly for the screen, they asked McDonald to write a new, original screenplay.

"Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer" opens in U.S. movie theaters on Friday.

"I thought of the film on a macro level where we could interweave all the great parts of the books and make it into a new story," Siegel-Magness told Reuters.

While the books tend to take place inside a classroom, the feature film focuses on Judy -- played by Australian actress Jordana Beatty -- during her summer vacation.

Her friends are away and her parents must go out of town for the summer. That sets the stage for an entirely new character, Aunt Opal (Heather Graham), to come in and care for Judy and her annoying younger brother Stink.

"There is something a bit subversive about getting the parents off screen for the summer and having this whole new personality come in and not knowing what that would bring," said McDonald, who co-wrote the screenplay with friend Kathy Waugh.

Magness's Smokewood Entertainment production company -- which also financed the film for an estimated $20 million -- went to great lengths to replicate Judy Moody's world and fan favorites like the Toad Pee Club as it appears in the books illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds.

"We literally took every illustrated picture in all of the nine books and made sure that every detail we found would be in our set design," said Magness.

That included everything from a wall of gum in Judy's bedroom closet and an armadillo she once created for a class project.

"Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer" has already been turned into a book, and in early 2012 publishers Candlewick Press will bring out another edition complete with Reynolds' illustrations to match the other books.

"We thought it would be so much fun for kids to be able to go back and see Aunt Opal as a drawing and see all of the things from the movie as a regular Judy Moody adventure," said McDonald.

Smokewood has also teamed with Candlewick to publish additional movie tie-in books that reach beyond "Judy Moody"s core readers of mostly 7-9 year-olds.

A behind-the-scenes book titled "Judy Moody Goes to Hollywood" is for slightly older children, while four books including "Judy Moody and the Poop Picnic" and "Judy Moody and the Thrill Points Race" is aimed at a younger crowd.

"The viewing audience for the movie will include kids who are too young to read a whole 'Judy Moody' book," explained McDonald. "So we took things from the movie like the thrill point race and the poop picnic and made those into short books with full color photos."

Editing by Jill Serjeant

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