The Book Is Better

2018_2_7 - The Book is Better_Jessica Cole.jpg

You know you’re a bit of a nerd when one of the first moments that attracted you to your husband involved him humorously quoting a line from Shakespeare.

Of course, I later learned that Shakespeare was not his favorite, but that didn’t matter so much. . . . The important thing was that he knew it, and that led to the discovery of something we had in common: a love of reading.

As parents, we (like many others) want to pass on a love of reading to our children. In many ways, however, the force of culture is against us. Streaming services make TV now more accessible than ever. Tablets and even cell phones are being shoved at kids at an earlier and earlier age. Video games are everywhere. This is not to say my own hands are clean—I probably allow these gadgets to be my kids’ babysitter far too often. So how do we get our kids to read when technology is so much . . . easier?

I’m sure there are many more practical and widely applicable methods out there to get our kids reading more often. Among them, I would say, are 1) reading aloud to your children often and 2) displaying a love of reading yourself. But one rule I’ve given my older children is a little more specific: if they want to watch a movie based on a book, they have to read the book first.

Jessica Cole_Books

There are several reasons I have this rule.

First, the book is usually much more detailed, and it is easier to follow the story when you already know what’s going on (and you can anticipate what’s going to happen next).

Second, I’m a purist, so it’s important to me that my kids know when a particular scene or plot line diverges from the original story. (For instance, nothing drives me more crazy than when a movie takes a perfectly good climax and turns it into a long, drawn out duel. Why is there always a sword fight at the end of The Scarlet Pimpernel? The understated climax of the book doesn’t translate well onscreen, I know, but I find it a pity that it’s always so altered.) Somewhat selfishly, I suppose, I want my children to be able to identify with my frustration.

Third, there is so much that goes on inside the characters’ heads that you can’t see in a movie. Part of the richness of literature is that you can delve deep into a person’s thoughts, rather than relying primarily on their spoken words and expressions to understand what they are feeling. The experience of getting inside another person’s mind and emotions is, I think, one that is best done through the written word. It is a powerful thing to be able to feel and to ponder things that one may never have encountered in the real world, or to be able to take a different perspective on the things that one has.

Somewhat along these lines, and perhaps most importantly, I want my children to exercise their imaginations, viewing the literary worlds and characters inside their heads before they see a director’s interpretation of them on the big screen. Advancements in computer graphics have of course widely expanded the ability to portray an unusual scene or character more accurately, but I still think it’s important to recognize that this is only one of many possible portrayals. I always find it fascinating to discuss a particular element of a story with someone who interprets it quite differently. A movie leaves much less room for the imagination and other interpretations.

That said, I still love the experience of watching books-turned-movies with my kids. I should also add the disclaimer that I do not always follow the “book first” rule religiously. I’ve allowed multiple children to watch a movie from a book that only one or two children have read, and I have once or twice allowed them to watch one out of a series as an “appetizer” to get them interested before they ever touch the book. There are also numerous exceptions with books and short stories that have been re-imagined by Disney. I haven’t even read several of them myself.

But for the books I’ve read and really loved, I am more strict. And there are few things that give me more pride and pleasure than to watch the movie with my kids after they have finished the book and listen to them exclaim things like, “Oh, I love this part!!” “Wait, they skipped over a bunch of stuff!” “Here comes my favorite line!” “Huh? It was supposed to be [Character A] who did that, not [Character B]!” It tells me that my kids are not only reading, but truly loving and absorbing what they read. (It also tells me that I’m creating more purists, and that makes me happy.)

We recently finished watching a series that my two older girls had read, and I asked them whether they preferred the books or the movies. They both chose the books. I gave them both a high five. I’m sure there are some exceptions out there, but in my opinion, from The Lord of the Rings to Anne of Green Gables to even The Princess Bride, the book is almost always better.

What is a book-turned-movie you’ve read that perhaps is less well-known as a book? I have a few of these on my reading list this year, but I’m sure there should be more!


Photo Credit: Graphic design by Anna Soltis. Following image courtesy of author.

7 thoughts on “The Book Is Better

  1. One of my favorite movies, Blade Runner, is based on the novella “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”

    And how could you say that Princess Bride is better as a book? I’m all for the movie as better! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I knew The Princess Bride would be controversial, haha! That one is definitely more of a stretch, because the movie is awesome… probably about as perfect as you can get to putting a book on-screen. But the book was also absolutely hilarious… I particularly enjoyed the narrative voice in the story, which wasn’t included in the movie. The ending did leave something to be desired, though. Hmm… I was going to call it a tie, but I’d forgotten about that point… It’s close anyway. 😉


  2. I had my daughter read “Ella Enchanted” — one of my top favorite books — before she got to see the movie. She read the book and then watched the movie, and was very unsatisfied with the way the characters and story were altered onscreen. Right. Exactly.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’d agree that the book is almost always better. When I was a kid, I loved Old Yeller so was excited to see the movie. My disappointment was profound, and it was years before I would watch another movie made from a book. It’s just not the same. Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIHM is significantly better than the movie. Schindler’s List is a powerful book.

    BUT Pilgrim’s Progress is a tedious book and I’d much rather watch the 2008 remake of the movie. Sometimes I feel like high school level reading lists are designed to torture students and make them hate reading. I’ve toyed with the idea of watching some of the classics that have been turned into movies, then assigning the book and a written analysis of the differences between the movie and the book, but have decided that there are too many wonderful books to persist in requiring my kids to read the tedious ones. Instead, I’m seriously considering finding a movie version of some of the classics that I’d rather not re-read (Moby Dick and Oliver come to mind) so that they’re exposed to those works and understand the allusions to those stories when they come up in life, but can spend time on texts they’ll actually enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good points! I’ve still not made it through some of your example classics myself. :-p And I’ll have to try the NIHM book, as that’s one that I’ve seen the movie but never read. Thanks for the suggestion!


  4. While this is not a book or movie that I would give to my children, I did read Forrest Gump before I knew it would be made into a movie. I was working at a library and saw it while reshelving books and thought the title was odd. I read it and thought it was so different and funny. Then my coworker one day said, “I saw Sally Field talking about the movie based on that book you are reading.” I was shocked! The book is a lot crazier than the movie, and tended towards lewdness in more parts. I think this time the movie did a great job of streamlining the story. And, of course, Tom Hanks and Gary Sinise. Although in the book, Forrest was big and muscular. And he went into outer space. 😆

    Liked by 1 person

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