Book/Movie Pairings Recommended from a Reader

March 5, 2010

Reader Traci Z. from Arcata, California has sent in more book/movie combinations to be considered by mother-daughter book clubs. Here’s what Traci has to say:

“My 2nd grade daughter and I just read Tuck Everlasting (by Natalie Babbitt) and then watched the movie and talked about the differences.

We also are reading The Story of Helen Keller (by Lorena A. Hickok) and has been a really great conversation piece. I know I saw the movie once when I was young but haven’t looked for it yet. Also Island of the Blue Dolphins (by Scott O’Dell) was a good one—lots of tears for us though, but so good.

We are so excited to try out your 2nd/3rd grade list and for some ideas from another mom who blogged about her mother daughter reading list. I didn’t realize I wasn’t the only one reading books with her daughter! It has been such a bonding experience for us and so empowering for my daughter. I’ve been trying to read female strength books and it seems to be having a posititive effect!”

Thanks to Traci for sending in the suggestions. I hadn’t thought about reading a book about Helen Keller then watching The Miracle Worker with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke. There’s also the newer version with Patty Duke and Melissa Gilbert. I could only find Island of the Blue Dolphins in VHS, but there may be copies at the library too for anyone with VCR players.

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Great Show to Watch: An American Masters Biography of Louisa May Alcott

December 27, 2009

American Masters’ film biography of Louisa May Alcott is a fascinating glimpse at a remarkable woman and the times she lived in as well as the people who surrounded her. Told in styles that range from documentary narration, drama and animation, the story takes the viewer from Louisa’s early life until her death in her mid-50s. The show is called “The Woman Behind ‘Little Women,’” and it airs tomorrow, Monday, December 28 at 9 p.m. on PBS. To be sure of the time, check your local public broadcasting station listings.

Louisa’s family of four girls faced many hardships as they moved from Boston to Concord, Massachusetts and back again during Louisa’s childhood. Her father, Bronson, was a visionary ahead of his times as a schoolteacher who was unsuccessful when he pushed unpopular ideas, such as equality of the races. Not only did he abhor slavery, but he also believed blacks to be the equal of whites, and he enrolled blacks in his school. The Alcott home in Concord was even a stop on the Underground Railroad of slaves passing through on their way to freedom.

Because of his unpopular views, Bronson Alcott had difficulty supporting his family, so his wife took on many tasks to earn money that would house, clothe and feed her family. As soon as Louisa was old enough to take on jobs, she also earned money to support the family.

As she worked at tedious jobs, Louisa composed stories in her head, and when she wrote them down and submitted them, she began to supplement her income with the money she got for her tales. She knew she wasn’t writing great literature, but she was practical about needing the money that came from her writing. Most of her stories then were published under a pseudonym, a fact that wasn’t discovered for more than 60 years after her death.

Louisa became best known for Little Women, a fictionalized story whose characters are based on her own family. Although considered a children’s author, much of her writing included pulp fiction thrillers that told stories of murder, revolution and drug addiction.

Louisa’s story is also fascinating because of the literary lions she grew up around: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. The American Masters biography is also filled with well respected screen actors: three-time Obie winner Elizabeth Marvel plays Louisa May Alcott and Tony winner and Oscar nominee Jane Alexander plays her first biographer, Ednah Dow Cheney. When the characters speak, their dialogue is taken from historical journals and other writings.

I got a review copy of this program, and I watched it with my 18-year-old daughter. We sat spellbound throughout the show, and then we talked about what we learned over dinner with the rest of the family. I highly recommend it not just for those interested in knowing more about this fascinating author, but also as a companion for mother-daughter book clubs reading Heather Vogel Frederick’s novels in The Mother-Daughter Book Club series. These books take place in Concord, Massachusetts. In the first books of the series, The Mother-Daughter Book Club, the girls and their moms read Little Women throughout the year they meet, and they learn lots of information about Louisa May Alcott and her times.

Outtakes from the show and an interview with director Nancy Porter and writer Harriet Reisen can be found at pbs.org/americanmasters. You can also check www.alcottfilm.com for more information.


Our Next Book Club Choice—Revolutionary Road, the Movie Opens Today

January 23, 2009

Madeleine and I will be reading Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates for our book club next month. While we have no set date to see the movie that opens today as a group, we would like to make it a book/movie combo experience. Just last year that wouldn’t have been possible, since the movie is rated R, but this year all our daughters are 17 and 18.

Here’s the link to the movie’s official Web site where you can watch a trailer and find other information: http://www.revolutionaryroadmovie.com/.

I’ve heard wonderful things about Richard Yates’s novels, and I look forward to discovering this new author for me.


The Secret Life of Bees Movie/Book Comparison

November 12, 2008

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Yesterday Catherine and I went to see The Secret Life of Bees with her book club. It was a school holiday and Madeleine joined us, since we had previously read the book with her book club too. We enjoyed the movie, and there were quite a few tears flowing during the show. We also had an interesting discussion comparing the movie and the book over ice cream afterward.

First I have to say we all liked the book hands-down better than the movie. The book is beautifully written, and it brings up issues of racism, familial love and acceptance of people for who they are. It’s not tidy, and by the end you know that the characters will go on trying to make sense of the times they live in and their reaction to them as well as to personal events in their own lives. There was lots of information about bee life that tied in as a wonderful metaphor to what the characters were experiencing.

While we liked the movie, we were very aware of things they changed from the book that made it flawed for us. For one thing, the movie seemed to add the bees as an afterthought, which seems strange. There were lots of scenes with August and Lily in bee clothing, but most of the bee talk seemed more informational about keeping bees and not metaphorical. Three other major differences between the book and the movie made up the bulk of our complaints about how the movie could have been better.

In the movie Zach ends up beaten up by white men for sneaking Lily, a white girl, into the colored section of a movie theater. This placed the blame on Lily and Zach for what came next. In the book, I was worried that something like that would happen because the two were so close, and I was glad when it didn’t. We all  thought it was much better for the story for Zach to end up in jail, suspected of assaulting a white man even though he had done nothing. It showed how people tend to see faces different than their own as all looking the same, hence stripping the identity from an ethnic group. If you can get in trouble because all black people look alike to white people, then your individual actions cannot be counted on to set you apart.

Also, in the movie, Our Lady of Chains loses part of her story, and part of her significance. In the book, she is depicted as being a carved ship’s masthead that probably started out as a representation of a white woman, but through her trials and tribulations the color of her wood turned black. One of the girls mentioned she was a great symbol to show that we are all the same inside, regardless of the color of our skin, and she’s a bridge to heal racial issues. In the movie, she was depicted as being originally carved as a black woman, so the symbolism is lost.

The ending of the book was also much more satisfying than the ending of the movie, although we all got the feeling it was intended to be just the opposite. I won’t detail the endings except to say that in the book it’s not tidy, which is more like real life and more satisfying somehow. The movie wraps it all up in a nice tidy package that trivializes what’s come before. It felt trite to many of us.

Regardless of noticing things we liked or disliked about the movie and the book, we all thought it was a great discussion for our mother-daughter book club.


The Secret Life of Bees – Mother-Daughter Book Club Meeting

November 5, 2008

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This past Sunday Catherine and I went to our mother-daughter book club meeting to talk about The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. Ellen cooked a great southern-themed dinner to go with the book; we feasted on ham, biscuits, corn fritters and green beans. Of course there was honey. It’s hard to read this book and not start to crave honey on the comb. As a southern-born-and-raised girl I was as happy as could be.

When the book was chosen, I was a little worried that I would be bored reading it. I had already read it twice: first in a women’s book club I used to belong to and the second time with Madeleine for her mother-daughter book club. But I need not have worried.

I started to read the first page to Catherine and was instantly reminded of how much I love the book, and how much I admire the way Sue Monk Kidd writes. The characters are well developed and their emotions leap off the page as real, not just words written about what they are feeling. I ache for Lily in so much of the book, and it’s easy to see that her need to have a mother who loves her influences everything she does.

We all talked about a favorite character, and it was interesting to note that nearly every character in the book is developed well enough to have a following. Some of us thought that August was too perfect, and that the pink house was too much of a eutopia. But we also recognized that the issues dealt with were very complicated, and the story needed August’s wise voice to sort through them.

Racial tension and the civil rights movement was also a large issue underlying the story. It’s interesting how relevant that issue is today in light of the presidential campaign and election. When I shared some of my stories about growing up in the south during those racially turbulent times, the girls looked on as though I was talking about a foreign country. In many ways, that era does seem foreign, and Obama’s election is testament to how far we’ve come since then.

We plan to see the movie as a group next week. We’re looking forward to talking afterward about how the two compare. I highly recommend The Secret Life of Bees for mother-daughter book clubs with girls in high school.


Book Review: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

January 22, 2008

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My middle school Mother Daughter Book Club met last night to talk about I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. What an interesting book. As we talked, we all discovered even more layers than we had thought of before.

I Capture the Castle takes place in the 1930s, and it tells the story of a family living in a crumbling castle in England. The dad is a well-known author who hasn’t written since his first book was released to critical acclaim in both England and the U.S. The narrator is Cassandra, the 17-year-old daughter. Rose, 21, Thomas, 15 and stepmother Topaz, complete the family.

With no income coming in, the family has gradually sold off all its furniture and other valuables until they are on the brink of crisis. When two young men from America inherit the castle next door,  it’s no surprise that the family sees the men as their salvation in more ways than one.

The characters are all very complex, and as Cassandra writes in her journal, the reader watches them grow in many different ways. We see Cassandra grow from childhood to adulthood and take on more responsibilities.

Some of the many things that can be discussed after reading this book: the changing role of women in society, love and marriage, the role of religion in our lives, money, children and their parents

I served tea sandwiches and scones for dinner, and everyone seemed to think it was a fun tie-in to the book. We talked about our favorite scenes in the book, and all twelve of us had a different one. I think that’s amazing depth for one book. As we talked about what we liked about the characters, I also felt like I learned a lot more about each one.

The only criticism is that the book was a little wordy, and some people had a hard time getting into it. It also uses fairly sophisticated, complex language. With that in mind, I still highly recommend it for a mother-daughter book club where the girls are in 8th grade or older.

One final note: I Capture the Castle is also a movie, but it’s rated R. It’s hard for me to imagine how this book was made into an R-rated movie, but the mom’s have decided to have a movie night in the next month or so and find out for ourselves. We’re really looking forward to getting together with just the adults.