All of the musicals in Northwest Bookshelf were adapted from books. The creators chose children’s books that they liked and turned them into musicals. People who make musicals get ideas from many places, but often they have read and loved a particular book and decide to make it into a musical theater piece.

Musicals that started out as books include Big River (adapted from Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain); Oliver! (adapted from Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens); Les Misérables (adapted from Les Misérables by Victor Hugo); The Secret Garden (adapted from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett); and The Sound of Music (adapted from The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta Trapp).

To make a musical, someone must write the lyrics, or words of the songs. This person is called a lyricist. Someone must also write the music—the melodies the words will be sung to. This person is the composer. Finally, most musicals have dialogue—the conversations between characters that is spoken instead of sung—and in musicals this is called the book. The book writer creates (or adapts) the musical’s story. One person may perform two or even all three of these roles.

This study guide is intended to give students and teachers insight into how lyricists, composers and book writers adapt books into musicals. Each book featured in Northwest Bookshelf is used to demonstrate a different aspect of writing and performing a musical. Our hope is that teachers will use the curriculum guide and suggested activities to prepare students to see Northwest Bookshelf as well as to lead discussions with the class after seeing the show.