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.”
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.
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.