I’m trying to establish a Movie Adaption Club at the school, and this year the 1st graders were my guinea pigs. I’m lucky our school has a 1st grade teacher who is open to new ideas and loves to incorporate learning in different ways. She’s also been a huge supporter of my read alouds. In fact, one day I couldn’t read to the 4th grade, so she did it for me. She had such a fun time, she’s been doing it ever since. Bonus: she’s good to Nico and has helped him harness some of that exuberance and channel it into tasks like keeping his area from becoming a fire hazard.
I’ve been hosting informal movie adaptation clubs since Mikey learned to read. As I’ve mentioned in the past, the house rule is that you have to read the book before you are allowed to watch the movie. I’ve mentioned this rule to the kids at school, and at first they looked at me with abject horror. “Be glad you’re not my kids,” I chirped. No book, no movie. The older kids, especially after seeing Divergent, are more willing to explore multiple treatments of their favorite story. Most of them prefer the book, too.
I decided to use James and the Giant Peach as my first classroom movie adaptation. I took this suggestion straight from the best book ever on read alouds, Jim Trelease’s Read Aloud Handbook. Starting in April, I made weekly visits to the 1st grade and read aloud to them for 30 minutes. I finished the book a couple of weeks ago, but Nico’s teacher decided to make watching the movie part of the final week of school activities. Smart, especially when dealing with little ones.
Nico’s teacher provided the kids with juice and a small bag of chips for munching. You have never heard anything cuter than a room full of 7 year olds chomp-chomping on chips. I asked the kids to look for differences between the book and the movie. As they called out differences, I wrote them down on the white board. I didn’t write down every difference they noted, but I think we ended with 23 differences. One little boy counted all the ones I didn’t write down and told me the final count was 49 differences between the book and the movie. Lesson learned: never underestimate a child’s ability to pay attention. There were days I read to them where I felt they weren’t listening. I was wrong.
Because the book has a few bad words that I had to change on the fly as I read (ass, idiot, etc.), I prescreened the movie at home. I attribute the use of the word ‘ass’ to the book’s 1961 publication date. Wasn’t ass still a word for a donkey back then? The movie had some questionable language (stupid, shut up, idiot, and ass once), and each time they came up the kids all cried out “SHE SAID THE ‘S’ WORD!” or “DID YOU HEAR HIM SAY THE ‘SH’ WORD?!” It was a good opportunity to talk about acting respectfully towards your friends, even when you’re feeling frustrated. I remembered when the word ‘ass’ occurred and made sure to loudly ask a question. The word went by unnoticed.
These are first graders, so it’s not like we had a philosophical discussion comparing and contrasting media forms and how they allow one to explore the themes central to the story. Their teacher asked them to draw and color a picture about the movie, and I suggested they draw a scene from the movie that was different from the book.
I asked them whether they liked the book or the movie better. Most of them liked the movie better, which I understand at this age.
This project was super fun. The kids loved it, and even though we didn’t really do much more than color pictures and eat chips, I still say (in my utterly uneducated and inexperienced opinion) they used critical thinking skills, made connections, and did a little compare/contrast work. Again, that’s my uneducated opinion.
The best part of the Movie Adaptation Club–the very best, best part–was when the movie ended and the movie suggestions popped up. Goosebumps was one of the movies and immediately the boys started yelling and screaming. “Can we watch it, Mrs. Kendall? Can we? Please? Can we watch Goosebumps?”
And then, one little boy to the other, “We can’t! We have to read the book first. That’s the rule.”
“OK. Mrs. Kendall, will you read Goosebumps to us next year in 2nd grade?”