Beyond Books, Raising Readers, Reflections, Resources
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Books-to-Movies: Training “Reel Thinkers”

Back-to-school time means hitting the books and living more structured days.  All the more reason to look forward to a good, family movie at the end of the week!  We’ve been living in The Secret Garden at my house for sometime, an experience which includes an abridged version of the book, an audiobook we’ve just about worn out (see the link above for this version), AND an often verbatim film adaptation of the book circa 1975 we found on Netflix. Good times.

But now that school is starting, we’re looking for a few more stories to read and watch together.  Which is why I was so happy that John Kwasny of Reelthinking.wordpress.com agreed to join us today!  Reelthinking is a website devoted to “illuminating film through the lens of Scripture.”

GUEST POST

We have a longstanding, very American, tradition in our home: Friday “homemade pizza-and-a movie-night.”  When our children were young, movie selection was simple: we went eight straight Fridays watching The Little Mermaid, for example.  When our children became school-aged, it was more challenging.  After awhile, the “new release” section at Blockbuster became virtually useless.

Thus, my wife had the brilliant idea of watching book-based movies–after a child read the book, of course.  The goal of getting to watch the movie made even our reluctant readers more diligent—and was a nice reward for everyone.  It also made our children better, more precise readers.  And, it allowed us to have some great conversations after the movie:  How does the book differ from the movie?  What messages does the movie communicate that the book doesn’t (and vice versa)?  What are we missing about the characters?  

Thankfully, we are blessed with a homeschool curriculum that requires large amounts of reading and has a beautiful balance of classic and contemporary books.  We’ve learned that older movies like Old Yeller, The Yearling, or The Little Princess train children to be more thoughtful and patient in their movie watching (If your child finds these movies too “slow,” you have work to do!)  More contemporary films like the Harry Potter series, The Lightning Thief and others, enable discussion about good, evil, sacrifice, love, etc.  And many films show us our sin and a fallen world.

It’s exciting to watch your children become discriminating movie viewers because they have read the book.  One daughter led a discussion of why the characters of a particular movie were teenagers in the movie when they were younger in the book (the need to have a romance in the story).  And, another child opined about why Hollywood makes so many children’s books into mere slapstick fun with idiot parents (i.e., the remake of Cheaper by the Dozen et al.).  Not to mention all the conversations you can have about how different The Chronicles of Narnia movies are than the books, and yet still enjoyable!

If this sounds like a recipe for making Friday family movie nights too “educational” (boring) you’ve fallen for a false dichotomy.  “Learning and thinking” are not the enemies of “fun and relaxing.”  It’s very possible to think through a book or movie and also be entertained by it (and sometimes saddened by it).  More than just being possible, it’s essential for our Christian minds.  Our children need to learn to do “Reel Thinking” as they watch movies.  And, watching movies based on books they’ve read is a great place to start!

My Girls’ Favorite Book-Based Movies:

1. Chronicles of Narnia

2. Anne of Green Gables

3. Ramona and Beezus

4. Lord of the Rings

5. Pride and Prejudice

6. Old Yeller

7. Huckleberry Finn

8. Little Women

9. My Dog Skip

10. The Lightning Thief

John Kwasny is Director of One Story Ministries and a contributor at Reel Thinking: Illuminating film through the lens of Scripture.  Not only does he have a Ph.d. from Trinity Theological Seminary, he is father to eight children and currently serves as Director of Christian Education and Children’s Ministry at Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church in Ridgeland, MS. 

CONTEST 

We’re looking for more good ideas of books made into film!  Do you or your family have a favorite?  Take a minute to tell us the book and movie titles in the comments here, along with why you like them.  Best answer will win the book-and-movie combo of your choice, up to a $25 value!   

Don’t forget to check out our other movie posts including True Grit and True Grace, Jane Eyre, and see what our readers think about Harry Potter.  Or read about another resource, Breakpoint Reads, addressing YA fiction including some books-to-films like Harry Potter.

COMMENTS

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20 Comments

  1. Jennifer says

    I can identify with the guest post today, because we’ve had similar experiences as our (homeschooled) kids have grown up. They have learned to expect the book to be better than the movie… but they’ve also discovered that a good movie might just hold its own, even if it’s different. It’s satisfying to have your teenagers agree with you on the quality of movies. For the most part. 🙂

    I have two teenage girls, so our choices tend to be feminine! My only son is 9, so we’re discovering “boy” movies as we go. 😉

    We’ve enjoyed a variety, like Sense and Sensibility… Cranford… and when they were younger, believe it or not, we all thought that the American Girl movies were well made. Especially Felicity: there was a surprising theme of domesticity threaded throughout the film, and her mother was portrayed so beautifully! As was the parents’ marriage. I loved that. A happy home is a rare thing to be found in young adults’ books OR films these days. It has been awhile since I’ve watched those films, but in my memory, they were warm and enjoyable.

    When my girls got older, Wuthering Heights became a favorite of theirs, although it still creeps me out just a little. 😉 But YES, great fodder for conversation.

    The guest post was filled with personal favorites of ours, as well.

    Please know I LOVE your blog, I’m so very happy to stumble upon it. Books are a favorite topic of mine, and I’m just thrilled to find such beautifully, intelligently, helpfully written articles on my favorite subject! I’ve got archived selections bookmarked, waiting to be read when I find myself waiting on someone to get out of class. 🙂 Keep writing!

  2. Jennifer says

    I can identify with the guest post today, because we’ve had similar experiences as our (homeschooled) kids have grown up. They have learned to expect the book to be better than the movie… but they’ve also discovered that a good movie might just hold its own, even if it’s different. It’s satisfying to have your teenagers agree with you on the quality of movies. For the most part. 🙂

    I have two teenage girls, so our choices tend to be feminine! My only son is 9, so we’re discovering “boy” movies as we go. 😉

    We’ve enjoyed a variety, like Sense and Sensibility… Cranford… and when they were younger, believe it or not, we all thought that the American Girl movies were well made. Especially Felicity: there was a surprising theme of domesticity threaded throughout the film, and her mother was portrayed so beautifully! As was the parents’ marriage. I loved that. A happy home is a rare thing to be found in young adults’ books OR films these days. It has been awhile since I’ve watched those films, but in my memory, they were warm and enjoyable.

    When my girls got older, Wuthering Heights became a favorite of theirs, although it still creeps me out just a little. 😉 But YES, great fodder for conversation.

    The guest post was filled with personal favorites of ours, as well.

    Please know I LOVE your blog, I’m so very happy to stumble upon it. Books are a favorite topic of mine, and I’m just thrilled to find such beautifully, intelligently, helpfully written articles on my favorite subject! I’ve got archived selections bookmarked, waiting to be read when I find myself waiting on someone to get out of class. 🙂 Keep writing!

  3. Christie McKee says

    “The Help” is one of the best book to movie combos I have found. My teen daughters read the book after I recommended it, and we laughed and cried through the movie together! I also love “To Save a Life,” which is a trio-song, then book and movie. Great for teens. I teach middle school English and for summer reading try to find books that have movies. “The Outsiders” is a strong combo, as is “The Face on the Milk Carton.” And what about the classic, “Shayne?”

  4. Christie McKee says

    “The Help” is one of the best book to movie combos I have found. My teen daughters read the book after I recommended it, and we laughed and cried through the movie together! I also love “To Save a Life,” which is a trio-song, then book and movie. Great for teens. I teach middle school English and for summer reading try to find books that have movies. “The Outsiders” is a strong combo, as is “The Face on the Milk Carton.” And what about the classic, “Shayne?”

  5. emily says

    Wow. I’m already impressed with reader comments. Thank you! My daughter just had some dental work done, and her treat this afternoon is to get to watch The Secret Garden. As much as I love that story, we could REALLY use some of these suggestions!

    Thanks for your compliment, Jennifer. I’m so glad that Janie and I could find thoughtful readers like you and Christie!

  6. emily says

    Wow. I’m already impressed with reader comments. Thank you! My daughter just had some dental work done, and her treat this afternoon is to get to watch The Secret Garden. As much as I love that story, we could REALLY use some of these suggestions!

    Thanks for your compliment, Jennifer. I’m so glad that Janie and I could find thoughtful readers like you and Christie!

  7. Hmm, good question.

    I really liked the Lord of the Rings movies, especially the extended versions, which delved a lot more into the characters than the theatrical releases did. I think Peter Jackson did a really good job conveying the Middle-Earth-ish-ness of the books. And he’s currently in the process of making The Hobbit into a film, too. I don’t think he’ll let down my expectations. 🙂

    I also love watching the film adaptions of Jane Austen books–particularly Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet, the Pride and Prejudice TV series with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, and Emma with Kate Beckinsale… I’m a girl. I like watching movies with pretty ladies, handsome men, and gorgeous costumes. 😉 I also love the books. The adaptions I listed are my favorites–I like the actors/actresses, and I think that they do a good job of capturing Austen’s themes and feelings.

    Then there’s Swallows and Amazons–I am so in love with these books (written by Arthur Ransome), and the movie is great. It is carefree and actually gives me a feeling of child-like faith, as odd as that sounds, especially since they are not religious in any way. I hear tell that there is going to be a new Swallows and Amazons movie coming out in the near(ish) future, and I’m looking forward to it. Coot Club and The Big Six (two other books in the Swallows and Amazons series) were also made into films. I own both of them and never get tired of watching them. They are smart, sweet, funny, interesting, and, as I said, carefree. Another draw is they have great soundtracks. 🙂

    The Horatio Hornblower TV series starring Ioan Gruffudd… I haven’t read the books, but my mom has, and she didn’t think very highly of them, but the movies are awesome, especially for ship/sea lovers like me. They’re maybe not for younger kids, since they have the sailor language and quite a bit of violence, but they address important themes like friendship, courage, and duty.

    Nicholas Nickleby. It’s a Dickens book, so it’s a little long, but well-worth it. I really like the 2002 adaption to film, mainly because of the incredible performance of Jamie Bell, who plays Smike. I don’t think the lead actor is that great, but it is a really fun movie, with serious and/or touching parts added in good measure.

    Fantastic Mr. Fox, by Roald Dahl, was made into a movie in 2009, I think. I thought the book was pretty good–lighthearted and funny in typical Dahl style. I absolutely LOVED the movie. However, a few of my friends thought that the movie wasn’t great. I think it’s a matter of taste with that one.

    Do comic books count? I grew up on the Adventures of Tintin, and there is a Tintin movie coming out this December(!). I guess the main draw is for people who are fans of the books; which I am, so I’m very excited!

    Oh, I should stop. I didn’t realize I’d written so much. Sorry… 😉

  8. Hmm, good question.

    I really liked the Lord of the Rings movies, especially the extended versions, which delved a lot more into the characters than the theatrical releases did. I think Peter Jackson did a really good job conveying the Middle-Earth-ish-ness of the books. And he’s currently in the process of making The Hobbit into a film, too. I don’t think he’ll let down my expectations. 🙂

    I also love watching the film adaptions of Jane Austen books–particularly Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet, the Pride and Prejudice TV series with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, and Emma with Kate Beckinsale… I’m a girl. I like watching movies with pretty ladies, handsome men, and gorgeous costumes. 😉 I also love the books. The adaptions I listed are my favorites–I like the actors/actresses, and I think that they do a good job of capturing Austen’s themes and feelings.

    Then there’s Swallows and Amazons–I am so in love with these books (written by Arthur Ransome), and the movie is great. It is carefree and actually gives me a feeling of child-like faith, as odd as that sounds, especially since they are not religious in any way. I hear tell that there is going to be a new Swallows and Amazons movie coming out in the near(ish) future, and I’m looking forward to it. Coot Club and The Big Six (two other books in the Swallows and Amazons series) were also made into films. I own both of them and never get tired of watching them. They are smart, sweet, funny, interesting, and, as I said, carefree. Another draw is they have great soundtracks. 🙂

    The Horatio Hornblower TV series starring Ioan Gruffudd… I haven’t read the books, but my mom has, and she didn’t think very highly of them, but the movies are awesome, especially for ship/sea lovers like me. They’re maybe not for younger kids, since they have the sailor language and quite a bit of violence, but they address important themes like friendship, courage, and duty.

    Nicholas Nickleby. It’s a Dickens book, so it’s a little long, but well-worth it. I really like the 2002 adaption to film, mainly because of the incredible performance of Jamie Bell, who plays Smike. I don’t think the lead actor is that great, but it is a really fun movie, with serious and/or touching parts added in good measure.

    Fantastic Mr. Fox, by Roald Dahl, was made into a movie in 2009, I think. I thought the book was pretty good–lighthearted and funny in typical Dahl style. I absolutely LOVED the movie. However, a few of my friends thought that the movie wasn’t great. I think it’s a matter of taste with that one.

    Do comic books count? I grew up on the Adventures of Tintin, and there is a Tintin movie coming out this December(!). I guess the main draw is for people who are fans of the books; which I am, so I’m very excited!

    Oh, I should stop. I didn’t realize I’d written so much. Sorry… 😉

  9. Even though my kids are small we already have a policy of reading the book before we watch the movie. My absolute favorite combination is The Dangerous Journey paired with the 2005 Pilgrim’s Progress cartoon.
    Obviously Pilgrim’s Progress is a great story to share with our children. Dangerous Journey has fantastic illustrations paired with an abridged text from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.
    I like to let them watch the cartoon Pilgrim’s Progress because it simply tells the story. The kids enjoy it and absorb timeless truths.

    Here are a few novels we’ve enjoying reading and then watched the movie.
    Winnie-the-Pooh
    Stuart Little
    Narnia (we watched the BBC versions)
    Secret Garden
    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
    The Jungle Books
    Peter Pan
    Tale of Despreaux
    The Princess Bride (slightly editing both the book and the movie)
    Mary Poppins
    Heidi

  10. Even though my kids are small we already have a policy of reading the book before we watch the movie. My absolute favorite combination is The Dangerous Journey paired with the 2005 Pilgrim’s Progress cartoon.
    Obviously Pilgrim’s Progress is a great story to share with our children. Dangerous Journey has fantastic illustrations paired with an abridged text from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.
    I like to let them watch the cartoon Pilgrim’s Progress because it simply tells the story. The kids enjoy it and absorb timeless truths.

    Here are a few novels we’ve enjoying reading and then watched the movie.
    Winnie-the-Pooh
    Stuart Little
    Narnia (we watched the BBC versions)
    Secret Garden
    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
    The Jungle Books
    Peter Pan
    Tale of Despreaux
    The Princess Bride (slightly editing both the book and the movie)
    Mary Poppins
    Heidi

  11. We have a firm policy about not watching a book based movie until the book has at least been read to you. Sometimes we have issues with movie choice because our kids are four years apart in age so most of the book adaptation is just my daughter and I watching.

    Her favorites are: Narnia, Harry Potter (the first two), Charlotte’s Web, Peter Pan (the live action one), Ramona and Beezus

    For me, I love MOST of the Jane Austen movies (the newest P&P is blech). I actually prefer watching TLOTR to reading it. (I know, I know.)

  12. We have a firm policy about not watching a book based movie until the book has at least been read to you. Sometimes we have issues with movie choice because our kids are four years apart in age so most of the book adaptation is just my daughter and I watching.

    Her favorites are: Narnia, Harry Potter (the first two), Charlotte’s Web, Peter Pan (the live action one), Ramona and Beezus

    For me, I love MOST of the Jane Austen movies (the newest P&P is blech). I actually prefer watching TLOTR to reading it. (I know, I know.)

  13. Cindy Carlson says

    Another wonderful book and movie combo is “Girl of the Limberlost”, book by Gene Stratton Porter. Also “Diary of Anne Frank” and ” to Kill a Mockingbird”. “The Last Sin-Eater” by Francine Rivers is a fantastic book; the movie was pretty good, but didn’t do the book justice. The “Christy” series of (TV) movies is also very good, based, of course, on the book by Catherine Marshall. “Little Women” is my all-time favorite book, and I like all three movie versions, all for different reasons. Another one is “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madelyn l’Engle — the movie does a pretty good job, as long as you have first read the book.

  14. Cindy Carlson says

    Another wonderful book and movie combo is “Girl of the Limberlost”, book by Gene Stratton Porter. Also “Diary of Anne Frank” and ” to Kill a Mockingbird”. “The Last Sin-Eater” by Francine Rivers is a fantastic book; the movie was pretty good, but didn’t do the book justice. The “Christy” series of (TV) movies is also very good, based, of course, on the book by Catherine Marshall. “Little Women” is my all-time favorite book, and I like all three movie versions, all for different reasons. Another one is “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madelyn l’Engle — the movie does a pretty good job, as long as you have first read the book.

  15. Laura Kate G. says

    I am a huge fan of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I started reading at a very young age. I love Peter Jackson’s interpretations: the actors and actresses are superb, the settings are fantastically detailed down to the chain mail, and the music is gorgeous, powerful, and haunting. I also love C. S. Lewis’ Narnia books, and I’ve been very pleased with the recent movies. I love being able to see his creatures come to life. To Kill A Mockingbird is another of my favorite books; I love the Southern-ness of the whole book! The movie is amazing also; it powerfully portrays the book’s theme. Lastly, I love the most recent Pride and Prejudice movie with Keira Knightley. The costumes are beautiful and I feel as if I’m right there in 18th century England with Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.

  16. Laura Kate G. says

    I am a huge fan of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I started reading at a very young age. I love Peter Jackson’s interpretations: the actors and actresses are superb, the settings are fantastically detailed down to the chain mail, and the music is gorgeous, powerful, and haunting. I also love C. S. Lewis’ Narnia books, and I’ve been very pleased with the recent movies. I love being able to see his creatures come to life. To Kill A Mockingbird is another of my favorite books; I love the Southern-ness of the whole book! The movie is amazing also; it powerfully portrays the book’s theme. Lastly, I love the most recent Pride and Prejudice movie with Keira Knightley. The costumes are beautiful and I feel as if I’m right there in 18th century England with Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.

  17. I liked Sarah Crewe better than The Little Princess, but I loved this version of The Little Princess. The 1995 version was pretty awful, I thought. The Shirley Temple version was cute, but if I remember correctly it strayed from the book quite a bit.

    I loved the 2002 version of Nicholas Nickleby. I never read the book so don’t know how they compare.

    I loved Heidi, the book, and this version of the movie.

    I’ve never read the book, but has anyone seen this miniseries of Little Dorrit? It is very good.

    I agree that the A&E version of Pride and Prejudice is fantastic. And the Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson, is another favorite.

    I had some problems with the book Bridge to Terabithia, though I thought it was superbly written. I didn’t like the Disney movie at all.

    A more modern book and movie that was good in many ways would be Holes. And did anyone see Inkspell? I loved the book, but didn’t go to the movie.

    But for my contest entry, going for something no one else has mentioned yet, I’d have to say The City of Ember was a very good book and the film was pretty decent.

    The book was good because it was a look at a future that was full of danger and had a child heroine who had to work to save her people, even though no one believed her. I read it a long time ago so I don’t remember it exactly, but there were the ignorant people who had lost the truth and were obeying the traditions of men and not understanding the spirit of the law. (Though I think the author might have been trying to say we should ditch faith in the Bible in favor of science and what we can see with our eyes.) There were the people who refused to believe that they were in danger. There were the children who saw clearly and fought for what they knew was right. And all that took place in a really interesting and somewhat creepy city. I loved the book.

    The children were too old in the movie, but the filmmakers did a fantastic job of building the city. (They added a strange giant mole which was ridiculous, but other than that…) I didn’t love the movie the way I loved the book, but I was quite happy with it.

  18. I liked Sarah Crewe better than The Little Princess, but I loved this version of The Little Princess. The 1995 version was pretty awful, I thought. The Shirley Temple version was cute, but if I remember correctly it strayed from the book quite a bit.

    I loved the 2002 version of Nicholas Nickleby. I never read the book so don’t know how they compare.

    I loved Heidi, the book, and this version of the movie.

    I’ve never read the book, but has anyone seen this miniseries of Little Dorrit? It is very good.

    I agree that the A&E version of Pride and Prejudice is fantastic. And the Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson, is another favorite.

    I had some problems with the book Bridge to Terabithia, though I thought it was superbly written. I didn’t like the Disney movie at all.

    A more modern book and movie that was good in many ways would be Holes. And did anyone see Inkspell? I loved the book, but didn’t go to the movie.

    But for my contest entry, going for something no one else has mentioned yet, I’d have to say The City of Ember was a very good book and the film was pretty decent.

    The book was good because it was a look at a future that was full of danger and had a child heroine who had to work to save her people, even though no one believed her. I read it a long time ago so I don’t remember it exactly, but there were the ignorant people who had lost the truth and were obeying the traditions of men and not understanding the spirit of the law. (Though I think the author might have been trying to say we should ditch faith in the Bible in favor of science and what we can see with our eyes.) There were the people who refused to believe that they were in danger. There were the children who saw clearly and fought for what they knew was right. And all that took place in a really interesting and somewhat creepy city. I loved the book.

    The children were too old in the movie, but the filmmakers did a fantastic job of building the city. (They added a strange giant mole which was ridiculous, but other than that…) I didn’t love the movie the way I loved the book, but I was quite happy with it.

  19. Oooh–such great mentions already! Ditto on LOTR, HP, Austen versions, etc. etc. I really loved the Leonardo Di Caprio Romeo and Juliet–I mentioned this in another comment, so sorry I’m duplicating here. But I thought that movie is very close to what Shakespeare might have done himself in the 20th century. It shows how edgy his stuff really is. In a different direction, I also really love the Emma Thompson version of Much Ado About Nothing. Another great Shakespeare interpretation. Oliver! is better than the book and a terrific musical–our kids love it (well, they love all song and dance acts 🙂 which also explains our addiction to things like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Mary Poppins,…). I’m a sucker for the old Charlotte’s Web animated film–when I read the book to my children, I find myself wanting to talk like the animals did in the movie!

  20. Oooh–such great mentions already! Ditto on LOTR, HP, Austen versions, etc. etc. I really loved the Leonardo Di Caprio Romeo and Juliet–I mentioned this in another comment, so sorry I’m duplicating here. But I thought that movie is very close to what Shakespeare might have done himself in the 20th century. It shows how edgy his stuff really is. In a different direction, I also really love the Emma Thompson version of Much Ado About Nothing. Another great Shakespeare interpretation. Oliver! is better than the book and a terrific musical–our kids love it (well, they love all song and dance acts 🙂 which also explains our addiction to things like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Mary Poppins,…). I’m a sucker for the old Charlotte’s Web animated film–when I read the book to my children, I find myself wanting to talk like the animals did in the movie!

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