I’ve been to the movies three times in three weeks.  That’s like a world’s record for me! Here is what I saw:

Ender’s Game

Ender’s Game made an okay movie.  If you have not read the book, you will find it to be entertaining, though you may have some questions about it afterward.  I read the book, but my son, husband, dad, and nephew did not know anything about it when they went to see it.  My husband found parts of it to be unbelievable.  My son said it was “meh.” (Teenagers!)  My dad thought it was pretty good, but I think he was relieved to see a more mature kids’ movie for a change, instead of the usual animated things he takes the grandkids to watch. My nephew, a fifth grader, seemed unsure about it, and I think this was his first real journey into a middle-grade level movie.  

I’ll say that what they DID include in the movie was fine.  I mean, we had to know the movie would be much more shallow than the book, that’s a given.  A lot of things were changed, starting with making Ender much older, which softens some of the violence in the story (and allows them to make a movie with a rating that lets kids actually see it.)  It is hard to tell how much time has passed in the movie though, and you can’t really understand that the book takes place over years of time and be able to realize how much they have manipulated and messed with Ender’s mind.  Ender’s brother and sister have been basically eliminated from the movie, but they try to replace those relationships with other characters.  With the actual characters gone though, a big piece of the plot is also gone, but I guess that works out okay because of the compressed timeline.  The book is much more political, but again that wouldn’t really keep the interest of the younger kids that the movie makers need to have in the audience.  It’s definitely a book that is hard to adapt for a film.

So, the verdict is, go read the book.  And then read some of the following books, because Ender’s Game was really just the set-up for the second book, Speaker of the Dead.  It’s a difficult read and it’s complicated, and it’s definitely not for everyone.  I’ve handed it to students only for them to pass it right back to me and say “Thanks but no thanks.”  Science fiction can be tricky because you have to be okay with not knowing what is happening until the author needs you to know more.

Thor 2: Dark World

This was great fun! I liked it better than the first one, and I’m not normally into superhero movies. I  preferred seeing Thor in his own world this time. Having him be lost and confused on Earth in the first movie did not work for me, so I’m glad he got to be a smarter character in this one.  Loki was fantastic and Thor’s mom gets a quick chance to show off her crazy skills, too.  At any rate, it’s not really a movie that you’re supposed to think about too much, so just go see it and enjoy! 

Catching Fire

So good that I didn’t even get upset with the cliffhanger ending! I read The Hunger Games when it first came out and before it was a “thing”, so I’ve been following these books for a long time.  This movie was really well done, and I particularly liked the pacing of how it played out.  It stayed in each setting long enough for you to gather the needed information and then it switched up again.  The images were very impactful.  Remember that in the book, the first part is Katniss and Peeta on their Victory Tour, then it’s the  Quarter Quell, they get swept off immediately for more training time, and the part about the games is pretty short.  The pacing was really important to make the movie feel balanced and still have a lot of action in it to keep it moving.  

The main thing I wished we had been able to see from the books would have been the videos of Haymitch in his Quarter Quell games.  His own story is only hinted at, but it explains so much about his character. I’m hoping that maybe some of those scenes will pop up on the DVD later.  If this same team is going to be responsible for Mockingjay, too, I’ll be very happy!

Next up…

The Book Thief

I read this book when it first came out, too, and it was my favorite book of that year.  The writing is beautiful and it looks like the movie will do it justice. I hope to see it this week while on vacation for Thanksgiving.  Part of me wonders if I have time to read it again, but maybe it is better to not confuse the two versions in my head. Has anyone seen this so yet? 


The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

lightning-thiefThis year I teach sixth grade, but I’ve met some kids in the other grade levels over the course of the year, and typically the conversations revolve around books.  For example, I saw some fourth graders reading the Dork Diaries books one morning while they were sitting outside during an earthquake evacuation drill.  I was walking up and down, monitoring kids, and asking students about what they were reading, how it was going, and did they recommend their books for me to read as well?  I had just been to an educator event at our local Barnes and Noble and I won a box full of Dork Diaries promotional materials, so when I spied the girls reading those very books, I told them to stop by my room after school.  They did and I gave them each a bookmark and a sticker (or pencil, or some other little freebie that was in my box o’loot.)  Then they told their friends and soon I had given away all of my Dork Diaries stuff!  One of the girls was looking through my classroom library, so I invited her to stop by and borrow books any time.  She took me up on the offer and started coming around regularly to chat.

As it turns out, this particular reader was quite passionate about the Percy Jackson series and I had to admit that I…yep, I had never read them.  Not a one.  I have them all in my library, but there are so many books and so little time, and I just hadn’t had a chance…but I will, I promise I will!

For about a month, this student popped her head in my classroom to check on my status.  “Did you read it yet?” “Did you?” “What page are you on?” “What part are on you on?” “Did you finish yet?” “How about now????”  Literally, she would ask me in the morning before school and then stop back by on her way out at the end of the day.  “Did you read it yet?” she would ask, and I’d have to explain, “Uhhh, still no.  I HAVE been teaching class for the last 7 hours, you know!”

Long story short, I DID read The Lightning Thief finally.  I get it now.  It was a really fun read and what a great gateway into mythology! As an adult reader, it was neat to watch the stories connect together and for familiar characters to pop up.  Even though the plot has been done before (misfit teenager with super powers meets up with friends who share a secret world and together they go on quests and fight evil–but who doesn’t love that?), the writing was fresh and right on target for kids.  I have noticed that the students in my class who have read these books are the ones who have strong reference points when it is time to talk about theme.  They can instantly identify the journey of the hero in other stories when I point out that it actually is “a thing” to look for when reading and comparing texts.  We are about to study ancient Greece, so those students will be well served with this extra background knowledge, too.

I can now wholeheartedly recommend The Lightning Thief any other student who comes around looking for something to read.  I was not impressed with the first movie, and the kids who loved the books gave it a big, fat N-O.  Movie #2, Sea of Monsters, comes out this summer, but since it features Nathan Fillion, one of my favorite people, I’ll probably give it another shot.  I’ll finish reading the series this summer, and give The Red Pyramid a try as well, which is the first book in another series by Rick Riordan, The Kane Chronicles.  Two thumbs up and shame on me for not reading these books earlier!

Percy Jackson and the Olympians, book 1: The Lightning Thief has an AR level of 4.7 and is worth 13 points.  The rest of the series falls in the same reading range, with varying points from 10 to 17.

Movies come from…books???

Pauline Baynes    This was one of the biggest things I ever learned as a kid.  I can remember two times in my life where seeing a movie opened up a whole new world of reading for me.  Okay, the first time technically wasn’t a movie, it was a play.  And it wasn’t a fancy play, it was a high school play.  I was in second grade and we got to go over to the high school to watch their show of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  Since it was during the school day, it was probably a dress rehearsal, but as a 7 year olds we didn’t realize that it was just a practice.  And we wouldn’t have cared anyway.  The high school was huge, the students were all big, the theater was dark, and there was magic inside.  Did I grow up to be an actor after this experience?  Nope.  I was a super shy kid, there was no way!  I did, however, grow up to be a reader.  On the programs we were given was the information I needed to get started.  The author’s name.  “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis.  You mean, this play is a book?  I must have it.  Lo and behold, it was not just ONE book, but a whole series.  SEVEN books! I still have the complete set I got for Christmas when I was in elementary school, back in the days when Wardrobe was considered the first book in the series and not the second like it is renumbered now.  (The Magician’s Nephew is #6 in my collection and now it has moved up to the #1 spot because it technically takes place before Wardrobe.)  These books were made into a cartoon, live action television episodes in England ,and then into a series of big-time movies, too.

   The second time I had worlds collide, I was probably in fourth grade and I saw a cartoon movie on television.  It was called The Hobbit and was about a little fellow named Bilbo who was on an adventure.  There were fantasy creatures, a magic ring, and a creepy guy who kept saying “My precious” over and over.   Again, I was shocked to find out that this was based on a book.  Again, I got lucky because this, too, led me into another famous series, The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien.  As a kid, these were difficult but worthwhile reads.  When I went to college I was assigned to read The Hobbit in a literature class, which threw me back into the whole series again.  When the movies came out, I read them one more time and bought up the DVDs as quickly as they came out.  Now The Hobbit is being made into a full-length movie as well, and Part 1 will be in theaters in December.  I’m wondering if I have time to put it back on my reading list again before then.  I think I do!  Check out the movie trailer here—

You know what is really cool?  These two authors, Lewis and Tolkien, were friends!  They were both professors at Oxford University in England.  Through discussion and debate they influenced and supported each other, even when they didn’t agree with the other’s ideas.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After those experiences, I started searching out book/movie connections.  I read all of the books about Oz, the original Mary Poppins books (did you even know there was more than one? It’s true!), The Wind in the Willows, and everything else I could match together.  And don’t get me started on my Harry Potter obsession!  Lately, I’ve been able to talk to my students about a recent book that was made into a movie.  The book is called The Invention of Hugo Cabret; the movie is just called “Hugo.”  They spoke very excitedly about the book and movie connection, which made me incredibly happy.  Although the book appears to be very long and is very heavy, it is full of the most amazing illustrations you will want to linger over and study.  Reading the book is very similar to watching a movie, and since the book itself is about movies, it’s just the coolest mash-up ever.  The author/illustrator, Brian Selznick, has another book called Wonderstruck as well, again full of his hand-drawn pictures.  Since they had already opened the door by mentioning both the book and the movie about Hugo, I was able to steer them on to Wonderstruck as well.

And that, that is how it starts.  However you get there, it’s never to late to read the book!