By TMoM Team Member Ellen Bryant Lloyd

Books and movies have been two of my favorite things for as long as I can remember. When I was young, I remember being especially excited when one of my beloved books became a movie. Several such titles that immediately come to mind are Charlotte’s Web, Escape to Witch Mountain, The Apple Dumpling Gang, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg, Pippi Longstocking, Heidi, Little Women, The Littles and Treasure Island.

However, before I was allowed to see these movies (and many others!), my mom asked that I read, or re-read as was usually the case with me, the book the movie was based on. That was her “rule” for any movie that was inspired by a book. Her premise was that the book was always at least slightly better than the movie. Plus, it would give more detail and context to what appeared on screen. She was right.

When my children were young, I adopted the same “rule.” They were both strong readers, so they welcomed the opportunity to get a new book or re-read one so they could see a highly anticipated movie on the big screen. I remember their enthusiasm for reading, or re-reading, books such as Because of Winn-Dixie, Harriet the Spy, The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, Mr. Popper’s Penguins or The Lightning Thief (and other Percy Jackson books). This was so they would be ready to go see their respective movies.

I enjoyed the conversations we had after each movie when we compared the book to the screen adaptation. We discussed what we liked and disliked and what we wished they had added or left out. I believe reading the books before helped them be more aware of details and retain themes and messages presented in both formats. It became a learning opportunity as well as a source of entertainment.

Recommendations for Books & Their Movies

As an adult, I still read the book before seeing a movie it is based on. Just as I did with my children, I like to analyze the book and movie. My movie experience is always better having first read the book. My reflection of both is richer. I often leave a movie thinking the book was better, but that is not always the case. Three popular movies I really liked and thought followed their equally popular respective books well were The Help, Just Mercy and Where the Crawdads Sing.

The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett was a book that I could not put down and did not want to end. I loved the characters, the way they were developed and their interaction with each other. As a writer, I appreciated the fact that Skeeter, played by Emma Stone, a white socialite who just graduated from college, was an aspiring writer who wanted to share an important story with the world. Along with, give a voice to injustices and bring awareness in hopes of making a positive impact.

In the book and movie, Skeeter convinces Abilene, played by Viola Davis, and her best friend, Minny, played by Octavia Spencer, two black maids in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, to tell their stories of living their work life. Everything from taking orders without question and essentially raising the children of their white employers while taking impeccable care of their homes. The book published as a result of the collaboration forever changed the destinies of the three women. It also opened Pandora’s Box in the small, Southern town.

I thought the movie closely followed the book and included many details that made the on-screen version more impactful, in my opinion. Sometimes a script has scenes added for theatrical value while left out details could have helped make the movie more meaningful or memorable. The movie version of The Help did a great job of capturing details and nuances from the book. While not adding gratuitous scenes beyond the book for shock value.

Just Mercy

Another favorite of mine was Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, a selection a member of my book club chose for our group. It is a powerful book made into a movie that, in my opinion, was just as powerful as the book. The movie features Michael B. Jordan who stars as Bryan, a young lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a practice committed to defending the poor, wrongly condemned and women and children. Jamie Foxx plays Walter McMillian, a man whose case Bryan takes on after he discovers he is on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. After McMillian was found guilty by a predominantly white jury and sentence to life, the judge overruled it and sentenced him to death row. Bryan felt compelled to take on the case. He discovered the main witness was coerced into giving false testimony and brought other corrupt activities to light.

I thought the cases presented in the movie were well-depicted. Though, the book shared many additional cases and more details about Bryan’s practice. I realize the movie could only highlight select cases in order to fully share their stories on the screen. Yet, the book helped cast a brighter light on all the good Bryan has accomplished. If the goal was to give movie goers a taste of the impact Bryan’s practice has had, then it was a success. I truly enjoyed the book and movie.

Where the Crawdads Sing

I purchased Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens just as the buzz for the book was growing. I enjoyed the book and felt great compassion for Kya, the young girl the story is based on. After her parents abandoned her, Kya raised herself alone in the marshlands of North Carolina. For years, the area people let her be to do as she wished. That is except for a truancy officer who kept trying to “catch” the “Marsh Girl,” as the townspeople refer to her, so he could force her to attend school.

As Kya matures, she is attracted to two young men from town. Everything remains more fine than not, other than whispers and disapproving looks from people she passes. That is until one of the young men is found dead. The community immediately casts Kya as the main suspect. They arrest her and the case goes to trial. The story unfolds, slowly, shining light on a case that brings more questions and answers. Though found not guilty, questions continue to float in the mind of readers and movie watchers. I thought the movie followed the book pretty closely. However, I feel there were some details altered to make the movie more appealing. Overall, the movie was engaging and entertaining, just as the book was.

The three above movies are just a handful of wonderful movies based on great books. The good news is there are also many books that will soon be made into movies or mini-series. You may be tempted to check out the screen version first. But I encourage you to follow my mom’s “rule” and read the book prior to viewing. Encourage your children to follow the “rule” as well. I am willing to bet that you and your children will be glad you did!

Ellen Bryant Lloyd is a writer and mom of two children, one who has flown from the nest and the other is not far from it. She blogs about perspectives on life and parenting at and tweets at @EllenBLloyd. She is the author of FRECKLES and FRECKLES and The Great Beach Rescue, a freelance writer and memoir ghostwriter. Ellen lives in Greensboro with her husband, her daughter, when she is home from college, and the sweetest dog ever. She looks forward to seeing her son, who is now living and working in a nearby metropolitan city, as often as possible.

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