Why Read the Book if you can Watch the Film?

Why read the book when you can watch the film? I often ask children this question when they are preparing for school interviews. Everyone knows that it’s a good idea to have a book to speak about at interview or a favourite author at the ready. What was good about the book? How did the author draw you in? Was there anything you didn’t like? For those who enjoy English as a subject, I like to extend this question into the realms of debate and so ask: Why read the book when you can watch the film?



There’s an obvious answer to this, or at least it’s the answer you think you should give when you are asked the question and that is: you should definitely read the book! But can you really answer this if you haven’t got any evidence? Ideally you will have taken a book, read it from cover to cover and then watched the film. Justifying your opinions are key in any interview. 


In my opinion, reading the book and then watching the film is the way to go but not always. If you don’t have time to read all the Harry Potter books for example, and you are not particularly ‘into’ that genre but want to engage in some conversations with your friends about Hogwarts and wizardry, watching the film will allow you to do this. Add to this that the Harry Potter films are highly rated with all star casts and you can’t go wrong, though you will have to overlook the fact that Harry’s eyes are not green in the film as we are constantly reminded in the books. So ‘not having enough time’ is one reason to watch the film rather that read the book. 


Another reason to watch the film rather than read the book is to do with your child’s reading level and ability to understand and enjoy what might be seen as slightly archaic language. Many of the “classic” books you will find on reading lists were written over 50 years ago, and leafing through them will give you an insight into why it might be easier for many younger children to watch the film instead. 


On the other hand, with any fantasy book, the mythical creatures, mysterious lands and magical activities truly come to life in your own imagination, and seeing them depicted on the screen removes you from the author’s original idea, taking you to the ideas and possibilities of the film’s director and producer. What you see will be someone else’s interpretation of the original text. Effectively you are watching what Historian’s would describe as a secondary source. Sometimes with films, the primary source wins hands down. I watched Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief earlier this week and both my children told me that the books are far better … and apparently everyone knows this!



So what are the merits of reading a book when you could just watch the film? On the face of it, reading is often seen as “intellectual” and “worthy” and brings feelings of achievement to the reader. But reading any novel also increases comprehension: if you don’t understand a passage you can go back over it to re-read it and try to make sense of it. Reading also allows you to learn new vocabulary, using a dictionary to look up words that you don’t understand and if a passage seems a bit boring you could skim read until the action picks up again. There are some people who even like to read the last page to find out what happens in the end!


Reading a book is an extremely personal experience. The author has used an array of techniques to tell the story and to lift the words off the page, helping you to paint a mental visual narrative to go with the words: metaphor, simile, symbolism, personification, evocative language, onomatopoeia, imagery and irony. There are so many tools that can translate the words on the page into an image in your mind giving you the chance to escape into a world of your own. With screen time something that we are all conscious of, encouraging any reading at all is the biggest gift you can give your children.  


And for those who are interested in doing further research, below are some books that are often found on school reading lists with film and television versions your child could watch too.

  1. My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell - 1956
  2. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome - 1930
  3. Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne - 1872 
  4. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens - 1850
  5. The Sheep-Pig by Dick King-Smith - 1983
  6. Northern Lights by Philip Pullman - 1995
  7. The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff - 1954
  8. Matilda by Roald Dahl - 1988
  9. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne - 2006
  10. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien - 1937
  11. Holes by Louis Sachar - 1998
  12. Lord of the Flies by William Golding - 1954


Encourage a bit of reading and maybe some watching too… and then you’ll know why “You should never judge a book by its movie.”


If you enjoyed this read, why not look at my other blogs on Documentary Brain Food and To Read or not to Read: Fact or Fiction?


And if you are looking to boost your child's confidence in advance of a school interview do get in touch to find out more. There are only a few spaces available for online sessions before the New Year.