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Two Vermont Children's Books Hit the Big Screen

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Sophie Nélisse in The Great Gilly Hopkins
  • Sophie Nélisse in The Great Gilly Hopkins

Two local authors are getting the red carpet treatment this weekend with Vermont premieres of film adaptations of their acclaimed children's books.

The Great Gilly Hopkins is based on the 1978 book by Katherine Paterson, which daringly tackled the subject of foster care. It was adapted for the screen by her son David and coproduced by her other son, John.

"I think it's an absolutely beautiful adaptation of my book, and I don't say that only because my son wrote the script," Paterson says in an interview.

The elder Paterson, a Montpelier resident, notes that it took nine years for the Gilly Hopkins adaptation to reach the screen. A lengthy financing process followed the severing of her family's relationship with the Walt Disney Company, which had distributed the 2007 adaptation of Paterson's Newbery Medal-winning classic Bridge to Terabithia under its Buena Vista Pictures arm. Paterson says Disney had pushed for a Terabithia movie sequel. The family staunchly refused to make one.

"Hollywood has no imagination, I'm sorry. If something succeeds, then you have to do it over and over again," she laments. "It's a book without a sequel."

The Great Gilly Hopkins, produced by the Paterson family's Arcady Bay Entertainment with a $5.5 million budget, is distributed by Lionsgate Premiere. It stars Montréal resident Sophie Nélisse in the title role, along with Academy Award winners Kathy Bates and Octavia Spencer and six-time Oscar nominee Glenn Close. All of them worked for scale, according to Paterson.

The Vermont College of Fine Arts — home of a nationally prominent MFA program in writing for children — will host a Friday, October 7, premiere of Gilly Hopkins and a panel discussion with Paterson and her sons at Stowe Cinema 3Plex. Proceeds will benefit Tatum's Totes, an organization that assists foster children in the transition to adulthood. Paterson says she's pleased with the event's charitable tie-in, since her book was inspired by her own perceived failings as a temporary foster parent.

"I realized that I was treating two human beings as though they were disposable. And then I began to realize that that's why crimes are committed and wars are fought — because somebody thinks somebody else is disposable," she recalls. "So, I had to imagine how I would feel if the world regarded me as disposable."

Another Patterson (different spelling) has a connection to a separate Vermont movie event. Prolific novelist James Patterson — the world's highest-paid author in 2016, according to Forbes magazine — cowrote the 2011 New York Times best-seller Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life with Hinesburg resident Chris Tebbetts.

Tebbetts will be on hand for a matinee screening of the Middle School adaptation on Saturday, October 8, at Palace 9 Cinemas. It will be followed by a Q&A session and book signing at the theater, hosted by Shelburne's Flying Pig Bookstore.


The Great Gilly Hopkins, presented by the Vermont College of Fine Arts, Friday, October 7, 7:30 p.m. at Stowe Cinema 3Plex. Panel discussion and book signing to follow. $30. Matinee screening for children and families at 4 p.m. $10. Tickets for both screenings may be purchased at vcfa.edu.

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, Saturday, October 8, 4 p.m., at Palace 9 Cinemas in South Burlington. $6.50-7.75.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Film Local Children's Authors in National Film Spotlight"

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