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Maria Salvadore

Reading Rockets' children's literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids' books both inside — and outside — of the classroom.

Book to film – and back again

August 19, 2014

More and more often filmmakers have been turning to children’s books for inspiration. Perhaps it’s a catchy book title that a filmmaker finds intriguing or maybe an idea they want to flesh out. Maybe they simply want to build on existing popularity.

Sometimes it works well. Many of us are wild about Harry, for example. I’m a Harry Potter fan in both the novel and film version, and frankly I find the 1936 movie version of Wizard of Oz more engaging than the book.

But sometimes what is achieved to near perfection in 32 pages bears little relation to the original when becoming a 90 minute movie. Take Sendak’s classic, Where the Wild Things Are (Harper) for instance. The live action film provides explicit character motivation. By doing so, this changes the audience from children to the parents who fondly remember the book (and who are able to insert their own motivation for Max’s bad behavior now as when they read it as children).

Nonetheless, films and books have a lot in common. Both convey meaning through words and image from the perspective of the person or people who created it. I was reminded of this when I read a blog series by Frank Baker about visual literacy for the middle school student. Images we see and the perspective from which we view them — from early childhood to adulthood — inform the way we interpret our world (or at least the meaning of the image before us).

Starting early on, it’s important to help children actually see, interpret, and identify differences in image. Just think about how we’re bombarded daily with visuals. Many times, we’re not even cognizant of them but somehow they still seep into our heads.

Let’s remember, while children instinctively respond to image whether on the page of a picture book, a computer screen, or in some other medium, we as adults can help them better understand that they’re making meaning from what they see, often through another’s lens.

So pick up the book and enjoy it together with your child before you go see a movie adaptation together. Then talk about what you see — the similarities and differences. How the characters relate. Enjoy movie adaptations in the context of their original inspiration.

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"A book is a gift you can open again and again." — Garrison Keillor