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Friday, February 26, 2010

"The Book Was Much Better..."

I should start a series called "Amy's Pet Peeves." Seriously, I just might.

When I was in college, I got to take a really fun course called something like "Children's Literature in Film." We basically got to read a bunch of children's lit, watch the corresponding movie versions, and then discuss.

It was interesting to dig in and dissect what elements from the book would be included in a film adaptation of a story, and what would be left out... What elements of the story would be minimized, and which would be grossly exaggerated... What elements would be added to the film that were entirely absent from the book...

I think the conclusion I came to by the end of that course was that movies based on books are fun. Really fun. They can be enjoyed completely independent of the book itself. But they should not be used as a substitute for the book, as they often are.

As parents, educators, and literacy advocates, we need to be careful that we don't fall into this trap. Watching the movie version of a story is NOT the same as reading the book (I think most of us reading this post can agree on that). For one thing, watching a movie doesn't require any reading, obviously (unless there are subtitles). And secondly, the movie is often a completely different story than what you will find in the book.

There seems to be a huge trend in Hollywood lately to forgo coming up with original scripts and instead, turn existing books into screenplays. And while I enjoy this to a degree, I also have some major beefs with this trend.

1. It is altering the legacy of many of the classic stories for future generations. Where the Wild Things Are and The Polar Express are two big ones that spring to mind. Today's generation of children may end up being familiar with totally different stories than the ones we grew up with... even though they have the same title.

2. It deprives some children from even ever experiencing some stories in their original book format (although, I guess the opposite argument could also be made). When I asked a group of students how many of them had heard the story The Polar Express before, they all shot their hands up and told me all about the movie they had at home. I don't think any of them had ever seen the book.

3. The film telling of a story can steal much of the magic and imagination that is created when you simply read a story. This is probably my biggest issue with children's books being made into movies. I feel that more often than not, they do not add anything of real value to an already existing story (especially one that has been around for years and years). Instead, they fill in those beautiful gaps where a child's imagination should be at play. That is a tragedy!

4. The movie version of a book provides an easy substitute for lazy adults. This week I saw a teacher pledge to participate in Read Across America by kicking off the celebration in her classroom with a viewing of some Dr. Seuss movies! What?? This week I also saw a bookstore advertise an Alice In Wonderland tea party that they're hosting next weekend. Guess what the entertainment at the tea party is scheduled to be? You guessed it, a viewing of the Disney movie Alice In Wonderland. At a bookstore!

I'm not completely anti books being turned into movies. I swear, I'm not. I do enjoy (some of) them. (Especially the Harry Potter series.) And there are some benefits that can come with exposing children to both a book and a film telling of a tale.

But we must be very careful to not substitute watching for reading. We must be diligent in our efforts to encourage a reading of story before the watching of a story. Let's not rob our children of the opportunity for their imaginations to grab a hold of a story and play! They can bring a book to life in their mind much better than any Hollywood producer ever could on the silver screen.

So what's your opinion? Are books as movies a good or bad thing?

P.S. The quote in the title is from a Jim Gaffigan stand-up bit.

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