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See the Movie, Read the Book (Yes, in That Order)

MovieIn my opinion it’s OK to see a movie then read the book, instead of the other way around. (I could feel some eyebrows shooting up as I typed that sentence.) Yes, I am a publisher. Yes, I believe in reading, I believe in promoting reading, and I believe there’s no other experience quite like reading a book. But to say there’s only one way to experience and interpret a story is selling any story, whatever medium it’s presented in, short.

There are plenty of good children’s books that have been made into movies. And there are plenty of wonderful movies for kids that are born not of a book, but from a script.

I have seen many books turned into movies that make me cringe. Perhaps they glamorized a character who was purposefully written as plain, or they changed a melancholy ending to a fairytale happily-ever-after. Those movies disappoint me because they aren’t interpretations that ring true, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t equally valid stories. I like discussing those differences. Was the character changed from a Judi Dench-aged woman to a Jennifer Lawrence-aged woman because they felt J-Law could sell a film better? (If so, that’s actually a discussion worth having, especially with kids—girls and boys.) Or did they change the character because the screenwriter saw the story through the lens of a different age of woman? And if that’s the case, why? Looking at the choices that are made when adapting a book to a movie, a movie to a play, a film to a television show, are endlessly fascinating. The medium will dictate certain choices (how a narrator will work in a TV show, for instance, which might be different from a book) of course, but the many decisions and adaptations that are made are rich for talking about how the story is interpreted differently.

I’m not sure I love the “If you like this, you can’t then like this” logic. If you are a diehard Harry Potter book fan, why couldn’t you like the movies, too? And if you came to Harry Potter by way of the movies, I think it’s great to then pick up the books. I see nothing wrong with toggling. In researching summer reading I was surprised to see many reading lists included a book and a movie, with the assignment asking kids to compare and contrast. I don’t think the goal of these assignments was to put one less book on the list and substitute it for a movie. I think it’s a really clever way to give kids an easy entrance to jump into what was the same, what was different and why, in their opinion, it mattered.

As a publisher who oversees our media tie-ins my group adapts television shows and movies all the time. We look at it as another, sometimes enhanced, way for kids to immerse themselves in the story. While we generally follow the plot of the movie pretty closely there’s often room to go into details that the movie may have omitted. Sometimes we can get into a character’s head a little more and sometimes we can even tell a subplot that had to be cut from the final film version. Even if the book pretty much follows the storyline to a T, I would argue that by its very nature reading a book is going to be a different way to experience the story than watching a movie.

As a publisher would I rather my kid read a Newbery Award winner than the latest summer movie hit? Well, yes, when push comes to shove. But that’s like saying I only read books reviewed in The New Yorker and don’t sneak in some reads that wouldn’t make it up from their mailroom, let alone cross the book editor’s desk. I do read those books. My kids do, too. It’s all about that eternal search for balance.

These days I don’t have as much time to read for pleasure as I’d like. I finally saw the movie Gone Girl, which the rest of the world saw a decade ago. I loved it. And since it had been sitting on my shelf taunting me since people started buzzing about it a million years ago, I also just finished the book.

A few great books that were made into movies in the past year or are about to be released. For what it’s worth The Great Gilly Hopkins is one of my favorite books of all time: