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.

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!

-Jessica

Photo Credit: Images courtesy of author.