If director Wes Anderson’s films were novels, there would be midnight release parties at bookstores around the world each time an Anderson-penned hardback hits the shelves. Your friend who always dresses up as Margot Tenenbaum for Halloween would be chatting it up with the Max Fischer wannabe ahead of her. Meanwhile you’d be jealously scrolling through your Twitter feed reading tweets from your Goodreads friends in another timezone as they chronicle their initial reactions to the novel. And once you have the book is in your hands, you and Margot would head to the 24 hour Dunkin Donuts for liquid energy to propel you through a marathon night of reading.
If only. With the sole exception of Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), none of Anderson’s films have a novel equivalent, at least not officially. Yet Anderson’s films contain definable themes and styles that are firmly rooted in children’s literature past and present. To immerse yourself in that same blend of Anderson twee, whimsy, and bittersweet optimism, spend a few hours reading these children’s novels that perfectly encapsulate Anderson’s unique and idiosyncratic film formula. Hey, it beats obsessively refreshing IMDb for updates on his next project.
In Kate Milford’s 2014 Greenglass House, Milo’s parents’ remote and isolated Greenglass House hotel welcomes an unexpected deluge of quirky, eccentric guests during the winter offseason. Milo is drawn into the mystery of Greenglass House’s history and secrets as the guests reveal all is not as it seems. Like Margot Tenenbaum and Sam from Moonrise Kingdom, Milo is an orphan, something very much on his mind. Anderson’s movies are often centered on locations and institutions, and the enthralling Greenglass House is a big draw, not only for danger but for adventure as well. Milford’s novel was a 2014 National Book Award longlist selection.
Esther Averill–publisher, librarian, and writer-illustrator–wrote 13 books about the mischievous and endearing cat Jenny Linsky from 1944-1972. The Hotel Cat is Averill’s penultimate Cat Club novel and contains many similarities to films in Anderson’s oeuvre. Just like many Anderson films, siblings are important, and The Hotel Cat also has that indescribable retro filter glow of old New York seen in The Royal Tenenbaums. A fully realized animal world mimics the universe of Fantastic Mr. Fox. Delightful and quaint, the Cat Club novels transport you to another time.
For the Life Aquatic fan, try Kat Falls’ Dark Life. In an usual take on the dystopian genre, Dark Life imagines a world where people move below the sea when land runs out above water. Teenager Ty Townsend leads a resistance against a government that demands the undersea settlers pay for their lands by giving away their harvests. Dark Life indeed looks to the future in a way that Anderson does not, yet its underwater environment, abundant sea creatures, and teenage damn-the-man fight against authority echoes themes from Anderson’s movies perfectly.
The Smithfork siblings, suddenly rich, move to the Upper East Side and navigate the puzzles by the deceased builder of their apartment building, Mr. Post. Mr. Post supposedly left a big fortune which the children hope to discover by trekking across Manhattan. Negligent parents and breaking the rules are constant themes in Anderson’s films and drive the plot and appeal of Maureen Sherry’s Walls Within Walls.
The Boundless takes place on a train’s maiden voyage across Canada. Like the train in The Darjeeling Limited, the Boundless attracts a potpourri of personalities. As the passengers are thrown together, secrets will emerge. Will Everett is forced to define his loyalties while hiding out in a traveling circus housed on the train. The Boundless invites Will and his friends to enter into an adventure just as many young Wes Anderson characters also confront danger and death for the first time.
Both The Royal Tenenbaums and The Grand Budapest Hotel open with books that are related to the story the viewer is about to watch. Wolf Story by William McCleery is similarly a story within a story. McCleery’s novel is about a father telling a story about a wicked wolf to his son. The wolf, Waldo, is desperately trying to capture a hen, Rainbow, and make her his supper. Waldo’s carnivorous quest against poultry mimics Mr. Fox’s eternal battle to steal squab in Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Arthur Ransome’s classic Swallows and Amazons series is a satisfying treat for Moonrise Kingdom fans. The children in Ransome’s series call upon surviving and sailing skills in the Lake District of England between the world wars. Creating their own little world of adventure and fantastical make believe stories featuring pirates and Amazonians over summer vacations, the siblings in Ransome’s series hone in on that Andersonian nostalgia for childhood.
Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind family series depicts five sisters growing up in New York City in the early 20th century. In a way, the All-of-a-Kind Family series is like the Little House on the Prairie of the Little East Side only featuring a Jewish American family and its immigrant experience. Readers get to see this old New York as a place bursting with quirky characters, epic meals, and socialist subtext. Many Anderson devotees who enjoy his focus on siblings and quirky New Yorkers will devour this series.