7 Kids books to read before watching the movie

This article may contain affiliate / compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer here.

The book was better than the movie. Who’s heard that one before? It’s a common phrase because it’s true. When it comes to kids books, it’s almost always true. These kids books to read before watching the movie are chosen both because the movies are very good adaptations…and some that aren’t.

Why is it better to read before watching?

Well, for one thing movies are pretty short, so they usually have to cut things out. Usually they aren’t things that are critical to the story–otherwise it wouldn’t make sense. But, they are often smaller parts of a story that are still good and important. Or they’re characters that you love that are removed or changed.

Another reason to read the book first is because it forces you to use your imagination so much more. You have to think everything up on your own. What does that character look like? How do you imagine the setting? What do you think that expression means? It uses way more creativity when you haven’t seen someone else’s interpretation first.

Once you’ve seen a certain actor in a role, especially an iconic one, it’s impossible to unsee them in your brain as you read–even if the actor or the setting have a different look than what is described in the book.

It can also help encourage some kids to read that might be a little reluctant–the promise of a movie reward can make it extra fun.

The Books:

1. Stuart Little

kids books to read before watching the movie Stuart Little

This book is about a little mouse who is raised by the human Little family. Being so small, it can be tricky navigating such a big world sometimes, but he does it with quite a bit of courage. His biggest adventure happens when he sets out to find his bird friend Margalo who has gone missing. This little mouse will have you cheering him on and believing in yourself.

The movie follows the book pretty well, but adds in extra things that aren’t in the book too.

2. Because of Winn-Dixie

Kids books to read before watching the movie Because of Winn-Dixie

This is one of our new favorites. Winn-Dixie won over all of our hearts just like he did the people in small-town Naomi, Florida where this story takes place. Ten year old India Opal is new to town and has no friends. When she meets a stray dog wrecking havoc in the local Winn-Dixie supermarket, she claims him as her own. Together they begin meeting people in town and making some desperately needed friends. This book deals with loneliness, friendship, loss, making choices and how we all need each other.

The movie follows the book pretty faithfully. There are a few extra characters, and the actors don’t look quite like the characters are described, but it does a good job. The girls rated this book here.

3. Mr. Popper’s Penguins

kids books to read before watching the movie Mr Popper's Penguins

This book wasn’t on my radar (other than I’d heard of the movie with Jim Carrey a few years ago) until my first grader said they read it as a class at school. She convinced me and her sister to read it so she could watch the movie and we all loved it.
This is the story of Mr. Popper who loves reading about adventures and far off places–especially Antarctica, but has never been anywhere. Then he gets a penguin as an unexpected gift, and his family’s life is never the same. From the one penguin they eventually have several more and the whole family has a great adventure. It was written in the 1930s, so some of the details may be unfamiliar to children, but I found them as a nice way to talk to my kids about the past and how things use to be.

I recommend this as one of the kids books to read before watching the movie because the movie is VASTLY different than the book. Set in a different time period, events happen very differently. Mostly the basic premise is the only thing that is the same. The girls rated this book here.

4. Indian in the Cupboard

kids books to read before watching the movie indian in the cupboard

This book was written in the mid 1990s, so many of the cultural aspects regarding cowboys and Indians (Native Americans) are different than the way we’d speak about them today. I used this as an opportunity to talk to my girls about Native Americans and their culture, how we should be respective of other people’s cultures and how stereotypes can be damaging.

The story starts with a 12 year old boy Omri who gets a plastic Indian from his friend for his birthday, and the old cupboard and key he gets from his brother and mom. After putting his toy in the cupboard over night and locking it with the key, in the morning Omri discovered that the Indian had come to life.

The remainder of the story follows Omri as he learns what it means to treat others with respect–no matter their size, and how sometimes you have to stand up to your friends to do the right thing. There are additional books in this series too.

The movie follows the book pretty well, but rearranges things, leaves some scenes out and makes others a bit different. But, overall it’s a pretty good adaptation. The girls rated this book here.

5. Charlotte’s Web

 charlotte's web

Charlotte’s Web is a classic and Newbery Award winner for a reason. This tale of a beloved pig saved from being sold and killed (as many pigs on a farm are meant to be) by his friend Charlotte is sweet and heartwarming. We meet Wilbur as a baby piglet who is the runt of the litter and not expected to live. But, he’s taken care of by Fern, the farmer’s daughter, before he’s sold to her uncle when he gets bigger. On the new farm he longs for a friend, and finds ones in Charlotte, the spider in the rafters.

There are a few different movie adaptations. One is a cartoon, and the other live action. Both of them are pretty good at staying close to the book and make a great watch after reading the book.

6. Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

 lion the witch and the wardrobe

The C.S. Lewis classic is part of the Chronicles of Narnia, a seven book series all about, well, Narnia, a fantasy land just beyond the Wardrobe. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is actually the 2nd book in the series, but probably the most well known.

It tells the story of 4 siblings who are sent to a large mansion in the English countryside during World War II to escape the dangers of London. While there the youngest sister discovers a secret/hidden land called Narnia through the wardrobe in a forgotten room. She tells her siblings, but they don’t believe her until they find themselves there too. There is adventure, betrayal, tests of bravery, loyalty and treachery that make this book a classic and a series worth reading.

The movie follows the book pretty faithfully, only leaving out or changing a few things.

7. The Tale of Despereaux

tale of despereaux

I’m not one to like mice…at all! But, this little mouse Despereaux just makes you love him. His heart, his bravery and his determination make you want him to succeed no matter what. It’s the story of a tiny mouse who is unlike all of the other mice in the castle. His doesn’t cower and creep. He is curious and likes humans. But, by falling in love with the Princess Pea, and refusing to be like other mice forces a series of events that change the kingdom forever.

If you’re going to pick one of these kids books to read before watching the movie, this should be it. The movie is very different than the book. I actually happened to see the movie first and was so confused what was happening when I read the book because so much has changed. If you saw the movie, but haven’t read the book definitely do. I wasn’t a fan of the movie when I saw it, which made me not want to read the book. But, my girls picked it, and we read it and I just love it!

So, if you’re trying to get your kids to read more but they need some motivation, give these a try. They’re great kids books to read aloud for younger kids, and perfect chapter books for kids who are a bit older.

Have you read any of the books on this list? What was your favorite?


  1. Yvette | 18th May 20

    It’s so true that we lose so much of the context of the story when we see the fil. Another book that I am a huge fan of is The Secret Garden. The book has a depth and meaning to it that, although they have made the movie 4 times, they just haven’t been able to capture.

    • Kirsten Reeder | 18th May 20

      Oh, I LOVE the Secret Garden! And you’re right, none of the movies have captured it correctly yet.

  2. Lee Anne | 18th May 20

    Excellent idea and list! My oldest son is getting to be the perfect age for this!

  3. Holly | 18th May 20

    Love these books and movies…It has been years but I am going to do this with my grandchildren this summer!

  4. Tricia Snow | 18th May 20

    I love the idea of having the kids read the book before watching the movie. Many movies do not stack up to the written version.

  5. Debbie | 18th May 20

    Love the classics!

  6. Candy | 18th May 20

    I remember reading all of these as a kid. The books are definitely better than the movies!

    • Kirsten Reeder | 19th May 20

      I only read some of them recently, but really liked them.

  7. Marianne | 18th May 20

    The. Chronicles of Narnia were my favourite books growing up. I’m definitely glad I read them before seeing the movies… although I thought gnoses were well done. It’s just not the same when you are picturing g the movie in your head as you read, rather than using your imagination to picture the story.

    • Kirsten Reeder | 19th May 20

      I admit I’ve only read the first two, but totally agree. The movies are well done–but imagining is fun.

  8. Lisa Manderino | 18th May 20

    I am a big fan of The Lion the Witch and the wardrobe!

  9. Sandi | 19th May 20

    These are great classics. I think in our aging reading before watching the movie is a good plan.

    • Kirsten Reeder | 19th May 20

      Thanks! Do you like reading grown up books before watching the movie too?

  10. Kendra | 19th May 20

    Wonderful list! I love all of these! This post had me reminiscing for sure!

    • Kirsten Reeder | 19th May 20

      Aw, thanks! I love a good reminiscing session. =)

  11. Sara - Seek Discover Learn | 19th May 20

    We did this with Paddington and it was so much fun to talk about the differences after we watched the movie. We will have to read some of these over the summer and then rent the movies.

    • Kirsten Reeder | 19th May 20

      Aw, fun! We haven’t read Paddington yet, but it’s on our list. It is good when you can talk about it together!

  12. judean | 19th May 20

    I believe books are always better than the movie-most of the time. My nephew was reading The Outsiders for school and they were supposed to go see a local adaptation (play/musical ) of The Outsiders. My nephew does not like the book at all. I told him I think if he saw the movie, he would think differently. I can’t believe he doesn’t like the book!? In this case, I think the movie will be better for him than the book. We shall see.

    • Kirsten Reeder | 19th May 20

      Yes, I can totally understand that. Sometimes the movie is even better–I have a couple like that. And some books can be a lot easier to understand after you’ve seen the movie too.

  13. Eva Keller | 19th May 20

    These are all great books and movies!

  14. Santana | 20th May 20

    The only movies I’ve found to be as good as the books are Harry Potter. What I don’t like about movies is the loss of imagination. When you read a book you can picture everything in your mind. A movie might not show things how you imagined and it can ruin the experience.

  15. Charlene | 20th May 20

    I always had my kids read the book before watching the movie and generally, they loved the book more! I love these titles and didn’t realize there were movie versions of some of them.

  16. Alice | 22nd May 20

    I love reading the books before I watch the movie. Sometimes the book is much better.

  17. Tiffany | 24th May 20

    Oh these are all great ideas! We actually read Harry Potter and then watched the movies just to help them understand how you read and picture the story in your own head. Interesting to hear what they think vs. what the movie portrays (and what they liked better!)

  18. Cindy | 25th May 20

    Always good to start with the book I think! I love the whole Narnia series. The movies are good too. They never completed the series though. I love the Harry Potter series too.

  19. Michele | 25th May 20

    My daughter has read all of these but has not watched any of the movies.

    • Kirsten Reeder | 25th May 20

      Oh, cool! Looks like you have some fun summer monies to watch!

  20. Tara | 26th May 20

    I am always on the lookout for new summer reading material. This looks like a great list and then my kids can be rewarded with a movie after we have finished reading the book. Thank you so much for the suggestions!

    • Kirsten Reeder | 26th May 20

      Sounds like an awesome plan! You’re welcome! Any other types of lists you’re interested in, let me know!

  21. Tonya | the Writer Mom | 28th May 20

    Believe it or not, I’ve actually only read a couple of these books. Good ideas for when my daughters are a little bit older, though!

  22. Ruth Iaela-Pukahi | 31st May 20

    I LOVE reading books before watching the movie. I remember my 3rd grade teacher reading Mr. Poppers Penguins to our class. That was soooo long time ago. lol. I actually haven’t seen a lot of these movies! I think I’ll have to reread some of these books again! An interesting book to compare to the movie is Mary Poppins! Very different!

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *