by Ami Gandhi
I begin this post with two confessions: one, I am a former high school English teacher so analyzing books and movies is something I do for fun, and two, my five and eight-year-old boys helped me with this post. While I have read most of the books below, they have watched many of the movies more recently; in fact, they’ve watched a lot of movies (and thankfully read a lot of books) during the past six months. I used to be strict about screen time until, that is, we entered the age of the Coronavirus Pandemic and my boys came home from school one day last spring and just never went back! Currently, kids all over this country are experiencing various forms of “going to school”, from virtual to hybrid to in-person. My kids happen to be full-time virtual students, which means that they pretty much don’t ever leave my house, and since they’re five and eight, they pretty much don’t ever leave my side! They still want to watch shows and movies during their free time but now I feel guilty about it because they already spend a lot of time in front of screens in order to “attend” school. I’m guessing that a lot of you parents out there can relate, which is why I suggest that you transform your kids’ movie-watching experiences into legitimate (as certified by me 😉) literary and film analysis assignments! You can even have them write proper essays if you’d like, though I don’t recommend it. 😊
Remember the phrase “compare and contrast” from probably all your years of schooling? Side note: I still say “compare and contrast” in my daily conversations with my husband and kids, no joke. Chances are your kids are already being asked to compare and contrast for school so why not give them additional practice (it’s good for their brains!) while also allowing, nay inviting them to watch more movies! As a former English teacher, the rule in my house has always been “read the book first, then watch the movie,” and my kids have followed this with series like Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia. It helped that I started reading the books aloud to them when they were too young to watch the movies and then my older son finished both series on his own. Reading before watching is important to me because I want my kids to have the opportunity to exercise their imaginations and visualize the images (like the Great Hall at Hogwarts with its suspended candelabras and starlit ceiling!) before seeing the film director and set designers’ interpretation of the authors’ words.
Other reasons to have you kids read (or listen to you read) before watching a movie is to introduce them to well-known characters and stories before they’re mature enough to watch the movies, as in the case of the Star Wars series and the Marvel Universe. Little Golden Books has a book for each Star Wars film and there are many versions of Marvel stories out there for preschoolers and elementary-aged kids. We have not allowed our kids to watch any Marvel live-action films yet but they’ve met all the heroes and villains through children’s books so they/re able to participate in this pop culture phenomenon of our time. The Star Wars movies, on the other hand, my kids have watched (all nine since March, not surprisingly), and reading the books first helped them to understand the characters and complex plots in the movies. Watching the movies was a much more enjoyable experience for them because they weren’t struggling to make sense of what they were watching.
Hopefully, I’ve convinced you to surreptitiously turn your kids’ entertainment into educational experiences, and to sweeten the deal I offer you some questions to (nonchalantly) ask your kids. By now these conversations naturally arise between me and my kids, and sometimes my kids are the ones to start the discussion. As a matter of fact, I was inspired to write this post after my younger son, who had listened to the audiobook for The BFG, watched the movie and was outraged at the differences between the two. Yes, you read me right: my five-year-old started the compare and contrast analysis of The BFG simply because he was confused and mad that the movie doesn’t reflect the book perfectly! So try out the following questions on your kids and you may end up having enriching and enjoyable conversations with them!
- What happens in the movie that doesn’t happen in the book? Why do you think the filmmakers decided to include these scenes? How do these scenes make the movie more exciting or entertaining for you?
- What happens in the book which doesn’t happen in the movie? Why do you think the filmmakers left these parts out?
- Are the characters in the movie the way you imagined them in your mind while reading the book? Do they look and sound and act as you’d imagined them? In what ways are they the same and in what ways are they different?
Of course, I think you should always start with “How did you like the book? How did you like the movie?” and then encourage them to explain their opinions. Here is a list of fantastic books that have corresponding movies, many of which my family has enjoyed and discussed. Please be sure to check movie ratings and reviews to check for appropriateness for your children.
Movies based on illustrated children’s books: Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs (we love this one!), Where The Wild Things Are, The Cat in the Hat, The Lorax ( love this one too!), The Grinch (three film versions!), The Polar Express, Curious George, Paddington, Peter Rabbit, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Movies based on children’s classics (middle-grade): The Chronicles of Narnia series, Charlotte’s Web, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, A Little Princess, White Fang (animated and live-action), The Call of the Wild, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Cheaper By The Dozen, A Wrinkle in Time, Alice in Wonderland ( both animated and live-action)
Movies based on contemporary classics (middle-grade): Because of Winn Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux, The One and Only Ivan, Bridge to Terebithia, Tuck Everlasting, Coraline, Harriet the Spy, Holes, The Giver, Ramona and Beezus, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (two versions), The BFG, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Witches (we love Roald Dahl books and movies!)
Movies/Series based on contemporary/popular fiction (middle-grade): the Harry Potter series, The Last Kids on Earth (Netflix), The Babysitter’s Club (Netflix), Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Captain Underpants (Netflix), The Magic Schoolbus (Netflix)
There are so many more options out there beyond these titles and while many of these titles can be found on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, etc., many of them can also be found at your local public library. Now you have all the information you need to compare and contrast to your heart’s (and brain’s!) delight! Enjoy, and kiss your screen-time guilt goodbye!