Kids don’t have to travel far for an action packed adventure these school holidays; they simply have to open up Chris Columbus’ first novel, House of Secrets.
Made famous for directing such films as Mrs Doubtfire, Home Alone, Harry Potter, and screenwriting The Goonies, it’s no surprise that his talent for picking a great manuscript has also resulted in a genuinely engaging read for kids.
The Walker family have fallen on tough times, forced to look for a smaller home, they think they’ve hit the jackpot when they are sold Kristoff House – a nearly century-old mansion perched on the side of a cliff in San Francisco – for a bargain price. But it doesn’t take long for the three Walker kids to realise that this house is full of secrets they never wanted to uncover.
The House of Secrets, co-written with Ned Vizzini, has been a novel 13 years in the making. Having first envisioned the book as a film, the screenplay has been tucked away in a drawer for the better part of a decade, until Columbus came to the conclusion that the world he had created was better fitted for the pages of a novel rather than the fanfare of the big screen.
Fans of The Goonies will be thrilled to hear that Columbus sees it closely linked to the famous film.
“I would say it is the contemporary cousin to The Goonies, although it’s not a definitive sequel, it certainly is - thematically - very much linked to that film.”
The father of four had more than his extensive film career to draw on when it came to shaping the characters of the novel.
“The three kids in the book are a combination of my own four children,” says Columbus.
"Having spent twenty years raising my kids and listening to arguments and insults over the dinner table, I was able to take all that stuff that was running around inside my head and put it down on paper. It was liberating to be able to write about my own kids and the conversations they had and yet not really attribute it distinctly to any of them,” he says.
Writing the novel has also been liberating for the film maker in other ways.
"When you’re writing, it doesn’t cost anyone anything. The only boundaries are not budgetary it’s the limitations of your own imagination," he says.
While the expense of turning the book into a film hasn’t deterred him from ruling it out, both Ned and Chris are focusing on writing the next book in the series and getting kids interested in reading for the pure pleasure of it.
“I want kids to discover the book, read the book and talk about it amongst themselves and lose themselves in the world of the book. I don’t want the film to ruin or spoil their own vision of what the book is,” he says.
Getting children to devour books was one of their main goals in writing House of Secrets.
“Certainly Potter did that in a wildly successful way and we certainly don’t expect it to be Harry Potter but what we’d like to do is take a lesson from Potter and really inspire a love of reading through this series of books.”
House of Secrets may be written for children between the ages of eight to thirteen but we guarantee that parents will find it just as hard to put down.
“I think it is for the ten-year-old in all of us,” says Chris. And we couldn’t agree more. Bring on the sequel.