Thrust into Manhood

Uzodinma Iweala's heartbreaking novel Beasts of No Nation was released by HarperCollins only last November, but the L.A. Times Book Prize finalist immediately sparked interest from a number of high-profile production companies—not bad for a debut novel by a 23-year-old. Begun as a senior thesis at Harvard under the advisement of Jamaica Kincaid, Iweala's chilling tale of Agu, a precocious African child brutally forced to become a soldier, was optioned by Focus Features right before the London Book Fair. The specialty unit of Universal Pictures, fresh from the success of Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain, is now actively developing the film. Iweala is repped by Jeffrey Posternak of The Wylie Agency.

Staircase to Hollywood

Six-legged camel-horses, talkative spider-trolls and mermaid witches are just some of the characters in author Tony Abbott's world. His fantasy children's series The Secrets of Droon (Scholastic), which launched in 1999, has sold more than six million copies and has entranced Toronto's Template Entertainment Inc. and French coproduction partner P&P Multimedia into optioning the title for development as an animated series. Reading a bit like The Chronicles of Narnia lite, the sequence follows the adventures of Eric Hinkle and his two pals as they travel to the mystical Droon via a magical rainbow staircase and do battle with the evil Lord Sparr. The tale should be well-served by the creative team behind fellow book-based animated series Babar, Tintin and Maurice Sendak's Little Bear. The mid-six-figures deal was negotiated by Jody Hotchkiss of Hotchkiss and Associates on behalf of George Nicholson of Sterling Lord Literistic.

Sean Penn Goes Wild

After a five-year absence, Oscar-winner Sean Penn is reclaiming the director's chair this spring. The project that's lured him out of hibernation? Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild (Anchor, 1997), the true story of Chris McCandless (to be played by Lord of Dogtown's Emile Hirsch), a disenchanted college grad who gave up his worldly possessions and hitchhiked to Alaska—only to meet a tragic fate four months later in an abandoned bus at a remote campsite. Penn, who hasn't slipped on his writer's hat since The Crossing Guard(1995), also adapted the project, which is being produced by Art Linson and Bill Pohlad.