Netflix Academy: The 10 best movie adaptations of classic children’s books available for streaming

Note: This post is part of our series, "Netflix Academy: The best educational videos available for streaming." Be sure to check out our previous Netflix Academy posts on dinosaurs; the American foundersaquatic life; the Maya, Inca, and AztecNative American cultures; and Christopher Columbus and the Age of Discovery. Thanks to research interns Melissa Reynolds and Singer Crawford for their help in compiling these lists.

One of my greatest joys as a parent has been reading beloved, classic children’s books to my sons. (I highly recommend this set, for example.) I forgot how fun the stories were; my boys especially enjoy adventure books like Call of the Wild. (If you’re looking for great books for littler kids, check out my Kindergarten Canon.)

Such books are worthwhile in their own right, but they also serve an important educational purpose: They are touchstones in our culture and are referenced frequently by writers and speakers. (Think of phrases like “down the rabbit hole.”) So if our kids are going to be culturally literate (paging E.D. Hirsch), they need to be familiar with these stories.

So when you’re finished reading the books, why not watch the movie versions too? Enjoy!

The 10 best movie adaptations of classic children's books available for streaming

1. Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

Disney’s animated, musical retelling of this whimsical tale follows young Alice as she falls down a rabbit hole and enters a strange and wonderful world that is home to the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and the terrifying Queen of Hearts.

Length: 75 minutes

Rating: G

   

2. Heidi

Heidi 1993

When young Heidi is orphaned, she’s sent to the mountains to live with her stern grandfather and gradually warms his heart with her charm.

Length: Two 100-minute episodes

Rating: G

   

3. Charlotte's Web

Charlotte's Web

A tiny spider spins a great tale of friendship and adventure in this dazzling film version of E.B. White’s beloved children’s book.

Length: 96 minutes

Rating: G

4. Call of the WIld (1972)

Call of the WIld

This 1972 film of Jack London’s classic story stars Charlton Heston and Raimund Harmstorf as government mail carriers working in the hostile environment of the Yukon during the nineteenth-century Klondike gold rush. It is the story of Buck, a domestic pet dog stolen from a California ranch and sold to work the Skagway to Dawson City route pulling mail, and his effort to adapt to this harsh new life.

Length: 100 minutes

Rating: NR

5. Gulliver's Travels (1939)

Gulliver’s Travels (1939)

Jonathan Swift’s animated classic fantasy of Gulliver, an English sailor shipwrecked on the shores of the kingdom of Lilliput, inhabited by a race of tiny folk. Soon, he finds himself in the middle of a war against their neighbors. The movie is bright, delightful, and ideal for youngsters of all ages.

Length: 76 minutes

Rating: G

6. James and the Giant Peach

James and the Giant Peach

When young orphan James spills a magic bag of crocodile tongues, he soon finds himself in possession of a giant peach that flies him away to strange lands. But that’s not half as odd as the oversized talking insects he finds living inside the peach.

Length: 80 minutes

Rating: PG

   

7. A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time

With help from a neighbor, Meg Murry and her brother Charles search for their missing father, who disappeared while performing confidential government research. Guided by three celestial beings, the children travel to the malevolent planet of Camazotz. There, Charles falls under the sway of a coercive power— leaving it up to Meg to rescue her family.

Length: 130 minutes

Rating: PG

8. The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden

A magical outdoor discovery changes everything for sad orphan Mary Lennox in this family-friendly drama based on the classic children’s novel.

Length: 102 minutes

Rating: PG

9. A Little Princess

A Little Princess

A wealthy, precocious, and loving child is raised in India, but sent away to a New York boarding school by her beloved father when he must go off to war.

Length: 100 minutes

Rating: G

10. The Velveteen Rabbit

The Velveteen Rabbit

Sent to the house of his stern grandmother for the holiday season, young Toby finds an instant cure to his loneliness when he discovers an attic containing three special toys—including a stuffed rabbit—that magically come to life. This mix of live action and animation is inspired by the classic children's book by Margery Williams.

Length: 100 minutes

Rating: G

 

Note: A few other classics are available on Amazon but must be purchased or rented, including 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Swiss Family Robinson, and Journey to the Center of the Earth.

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