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House Rule: Read the Book Before You See the Movie

DD-books-01-620She started with a brand new paperback. Now, the book looks like it’s been run over by a Mack truck. What’s odd is, I don’t care.

I’m talking about my youngest daughter, Rosie. Not so long ago, she was reading novelettes like “The Magic Treehouse” and titles from the “A-Z Mysteries” series. Recently, however, her reading level has jumped exponentially, thanks to a rule long-enforced in our home: “When a movie is based on a book, you have to read it before you can see the movie.”

The “read the book” idea started even before I had children. It was a self-imposed rule for disciplining myself to read classic literature before seeing someone else’s interpretation of the story. From the works of Jane Austen to Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” — I wanted to first experience the stories as the author intended.

In my mind, reading is an investment in a story — it pairs the author’s vision with my own imagination — it’s a deeply personal experience. The inverse — seeing the movie first — leaves me with only the director’s visual interpretation of the story.

if she can handle the intensity in the book, she’s ready for the film

I have a particular reverence for books, especially classics, because I’m a hobby rare book collector. So I get a little persnickety, generally, about the way books are handled and cared for. But in this instance, when it came to discovering Rosie’s mangled copy of “Harry Potter,” I hardly gave a second thought to the tired state of the book. The important thing is that she’s reading — a lot. What’s not to love about that?

Now, every night before bed, she grabs her beat-up copy of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” — all 873 pages of it. As parents around the world know, that’s what happens when a kid starts reading “Harry Potter.”

The “Harry Potter” stories are, at times, intense — with characters dying and numerous scenes of peril. The “read the book first” rule has served us well with respect to difficult movie content. Reading the book in advance makes seeing the movie an extension of their reading experience. They already know what hides in the shadows. And they know that the good guys will win in the end. In other words, if she can handle the intensity in the book, she’s ready for the film.

When my oldest daughter wanted to see the Disney movie, “Bridge to Terabithia,” she followed the rule and read the book first. And, because one of the book’s main characters tragically dies, I’m glad she did. When she reached the tragic event in the story, she came to me with tears in her eyes, saying, “She died, Daddy.” She fell into my arms and wept. Once the tears had subsided, she finished reading the book and loved it. After that, I knew it was safe to take her to see the movie.

Now that both daughters are reading voraciously, their completion of a book calls for a special movie night: We’ll visit a local video store, make popcorn, and watch the movie together. It’s an event! We turn out the lights and snuggle together on the couch. It’s a blast sharing the movie experience together as a family.

You know your child better than anyone. Not every nine-year-old is ready for “Harry Potter.” Even so, when your children are old enough to watch more mature movies, I stand by my rule: “When a movie is based on a book, you have to read it before you can see the movie.”

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