Watching the movie version of a book may not immediately sound like a great way to boost reading skills. But for third graders, being able to “describe the characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events” is a key reading skill under the Common Core Standards. After your child has read these third grade books, watch the movie together, and ask your child to explain how the characters are different on the page and on the screen.
3rd grade books so great, they made a movie
Because of Winn-Dixie
by: Kate DiCamillo - (Candlewick, 2000) 182 pages.
The hook: Because of a hysterical encounter with Winn-Dixie, a stray but lovable dog, India Opal’s life changes forever. Opal is forced to deal with the absence of her mother and a father who is absorbed in his work. One day she stumbles upon a stray dog in the Winn-Dixie grocery and it’s love at first sight. Opal adopts the dog and he helps her make friends with people that the town-folks have labeled as strange and different. This is a beautiful story about friendship, forgiveness, and tolerance.
Want to see the movie? Check out the family-friendly 2005 adaptation.
Perfect for: Kids who like making friends.
Find Because of Winn-Dixie at your local library.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
by: Roald Dahl - (A.A. Knopf, 1964) 180 pages.
The hook: Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory invites five lucky lottery winners to tour the facility and observe its amazing secrets. Four of the visiting children are nasty brats who will get exactly what they deserve. Only Charlie is worthy. Wild, hysterical, irreverent but ethical — it’s a classic modern fable that ridicules greed.
Want to see the movie? Kids may be more drawn to the chaotic, colorful 2005 adaptation starring Johnny Depp, but the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), which was written by Dahl himself, is a gentler take that still stands up today.
Perfect for: Kids who like classic stories.
Find Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at your local library.
Eloise: A Book for Precocious Grown-ups
by: Kay Thompson, illustrated by: Hilary Knight - (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1969) 68 pages.
The hook: Sassy 6-year-old Eloise, who lives at New York’s Plaza Hotel, has been mesmerizing children with her antics for more than 60 years. You’ll barely be able to keep up with Eloise (or with the text, which does away with grammatical conventions like periods and commas), as she capers about the hotel, tormenting the staff and harrying the guests. Be forewarned: In Eloise’s world, “getting bored is not allowed.”
Want to see the movie? Kids who can’t get enough Eloise might enjoy the 2003 made-for-TV adaptations (Eloise at the Plaza and Eloise at Christmastime) or the animated series.
Perfect for: Kids who love the idea of fierce independence.
Find our favorites at your local library: Eloise: A Book for Precocious Grown-ups, Eloise in Paris, Eloise at Christmastime, Eloise in Moscow.
Escape to Witch Mountain
by: Alexander H. Key, illustrated by: Leon B. Wisdom, Jr. - (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2009) 144 pages.
The hook: Orphaned twins Tia and Tony have paranormal abilities. Tony can move objects with his mind, Tia can communicate with animals, and the two can communicate with one another telepathically. With the help of a mysterious map, the two embark on a treacherous adventure to Witch Mountain to unravel the secrets of their past. First published in 1968, this wildly imaginative book kicked off an interest in science fiction for a generation of kids, and it remains a thrilling page-turner for young readers.
Want to see the movie? The 1975 Disney adaptation feels a little dated, but like the book, it holds up as a suspenseful thriller appropriate for young viewers.
Perfect for: Kids who are fascinated by the paranormal.
Find Escape to Witch Mountain at your local library.
Fantastic Mr. Fox
by: Roald Dahl, illustrated by: Quentin Blake - (Puffin Books, 2007) 112 pages.
The hook: It’s a Robin Hood tale with a sly, Roald Dahl flair. Mr. Fox uses his foxy wiles to steal from the wealthy farmers Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, who are “about as nasty and mean as any men you could meet.” Though the farmers employ elaborate means to try to catch him, the slippery fox always finds a way to evade their grasp. But when the scheming farmers finally trap the Fox family in their den, Mr. Fox must come up with the most fantastic plan of all to save his family — and the neighborhood — from starvation.
Want to see the movie? The animated 2009 film, which features the voice talents of Bill Murray, Meryl Streep, and George Clooney as the cagey Mr. Fox, captures the edgy humor of the book.
Perfect for: Kids with a wicked sense of humor.
Find Fantastic Mr. Fox at your local library.
Guardians of Ga’Hoole series
by: Kathryn Lasky - (Scholastic, 2003) 240 pages.
The hook: This engrossing 16-book fantasy series follows the adventures of a group of courageous owls fighting an evil that threatens their way of life in the forest. The series kicks off with The Capture, which is told from the perspective of a barn owlet named Soren. Stolen from his nest, Soren is taken to St. Aggie’s Academy, where young owls are brainwashed and forced into slavery. Inspired by the legends of the great heroes of Ga’Hoole, Soren and his new friend Glyfie hatch a plan to escape. The books have a lot to offer voracious readers: strong messages of friendship, vivid details about owl behavior, and thrilling, suspenseful scenarios.
Want to see the movie? The beautifully animated 2010 film, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, follows the plot of the first three books in the series.
Perfect for: Kids who love the Warriors series by Erin Hunter.
Find our favorites at your local library: The Capture, The Journey, The Rescue
How to Train Your Dragon
by: Cressida Cowell - (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2004) 224 pages.
The hook: This humorous 15-book series follows Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, the brainy undersized son of a hulking Viking chief. He describes himself as “not a natural at the Heroism business.” Hiccup, along with the other young Vikings, must choose a dragon hatchling to train and learn to become a warrior before being initiated as an adult member of the tribe. Filled with slightly rude humor that will appeal to preadolescents (including character names like “Dogsbreath the Duhbrain” and “Snotface Snotlout,”), and rough — but funny — illustrations, this engaging series is sustained by themes about being an underdog and succeeding in ways outside the norm.
Want to watch the movie? The animated adventures How to Train Your Dragon (2010) and How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014) are loosely based on the book series.
Perfect for: Reluctant readers who are tickled by preteen humor.
Find our favorites at your local library: How to Train Your Dragon, How to Be a Pirate, How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse.
How to Eat Fried Worms
by: Thomas Rockwell, illustrated by: Emily Arnold McCully - (Yearling, 2006) 128 pages.
The hook: Interested in a little Whizbang Worm Delight? If not, you may need to brace yourself for the gross-out humor ahead. A fun choice for reluctant readers, this hilariously disgusting gastronomical adventure follows 10-year-old daredevil Billy Forrester, who is challenged by his friends to eat 15 worms in 15 days for a prize of $50. Will he make it? The suspense builds as Billy starts to relish his daily wriggler — with peanut butter, dipped in ketchup, fried in butter, the bigger and juicier the better — while his friends try everything they can to make him lose the bet.
Want to see the movie? Those with a strong stomach should check out the 2006 film version, which strays from the book’s plot but stays true to its spirit.
Perfect for: Kids who love gross-out humor.
Find How to Eat Fried Worms at your local library.
Mr. Popper’s Penguins
by: Richard and Florence Atwater, illustrated by: Robert Lawson - (Little, Brown & Co., 1938) 139 pages.
The hook: Mr Popper’s Penguins is one of those classic childhood books that kids always remember, and even ranks up there with Charlotte’s Web and James and the Giant Peach. The chapter book’s witty dialogue (albeit with dated language), clever characters and an ethical predicament make this book as enjoyable today as in the 1930s. In fact, many teachers today use it as part of their language arts curriculum. Mr. Poppers Penguins is a good fit for most first- and second-grade readers, and can also be read aloud to kindergartners.
Want to watch the movie? The 2011 adaptation is only loosely based on the original story but has plenty of slapstick gags to keep the elementary school crowd entertained.
Perfect for: Kids who like classics.
Find Mr. Popper’s Penguins at your local library.
by: J.M. Barrie - (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911) 240 pages.
The hook: The original language is rich, and the story, so much a part of our culture, inspires children to dream. Some of the racial and gender stereotypes, typical for their time, will need explanation.
Want to watch the movie? The still-enchanting Disney classic contains some dated stereotypes but may prompt great discussions about how movies have changed since 1953.
Perfect for: Kids who like classic stories.
Find Peter Pan at your local library.
Sarah, Plain and Tall
by: Patricia MacLachlan - (Harper & Row, 1985) 112 pages.
The hook: After their mother dies, Anna and Caleb’s father advertises for a mail order bride. Sarah responds to the ad, and heads out from Maine to join the family on their Midwest farm. The children are apprehensive before she arrives, wondering what she’ll be like. When Sarah arrives, bringing her cat, gifts from the Maine coast, and warmth back to their desolate home, family bonding ensues. Part one of a heartwarming five-part saga.
Want to watch the movie? Check out the 1991 TV movie starring Christopher Walken and Glenn Close, which was nominated for 9 Emmys.
Perfect for: Kids intrigued by pioneer families.
Find Sarah, Plain and Tall at your local library.
by: Janell Cannon - (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1993) 46 pages.
The hook: Stellaluna is a baby fruit bat happily flying along with her mother when an owl attacks. The poor little bat is knocked out of her mother’s grasp and lands in a birds’ nest. The mother bird accepts Stellaluna as long as she acts like a bird, not a bat. Soon enough, Stellaluna learns to eat bugs and stop hanging by her feet. When she finally has a chance to show her bird siblings, Pip, Flutter and Flap, what life as a bat is like, they are left all in a muddle: “How can we be so different and feel so much alike?” one asks. Anyone who has ever been in a position where they can’t be who they really are will relate to Stellaluna’s predicament. Cannon’s award-winning illustrations convey the nocturnal world beautifully. Readers will be enchanted by this book with its messages of acceptance, friendship and a mothers’ love.
Want to see the movie? The 2012 animated adaptation fleshes out the picture book with additional characters and songs while staying true to the story.
Perfect for: Kids who like making friends.
Find Stellaluna at your local library.
The Spiderwick Chronicles series
by: Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, illustrated by: Tony DiTerlizzi - (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2013) 144 pages.
The hook: Beginning with The Field Guide, this five-book series follows 9-year-old twins Jared and Simon and their older sister Mallory as they discover a hidden faerie world that is darker and more dangerous than they could have imagined. After moving into their great, great uncle’s creepy old mansion, the siblings find a dusty, handwritten book called Field Guide to The Fantastical World Around You in the attic. What follows is a series of thrilling encounters involving a secret library, a riddle-poem, fairies, goblins, and more, all depicted in easy-to-read prose and beautiful illustrations.
Want to see the movie? The 2008 film is loosely based on the entire series.
Perfect for: Budding fantasy fans.
Find our favorites at your local library: The Field Guide, The Seeing Stone, Lucinda’s Secret.
The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread
by: Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by: Timothy Basil Ering - (Candlewick, 2015) 272 pages.
The hook: This Newberry Medal winner weaves together the stories of three very different characters who find themselves on an incredible journey together. Despereaux Tilling, a brave but misunderstood mouse, has giant ears, a passion for books, and the misfortune to have fallen in love with a Princess named Pea — a transgression which sends him to the dungeon. Roscuro the rat shares the dungeon with Despereaux but longs to live in the daylight. And the partially deaf serving girl, Miggery Sow, secretly dreams of being a princess. How will their paths and destinies cross?
Want to see the movie? The beautifully animated 2008 film adaptation further explores the themes of hope and unlikely heroism addressed in the book in a way that’s appealing to both kids and adults.
Perfect for: Kids who have experienced feeling different.
Find The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread at your local library.
The Wind in the Willows
by: Kenneth Grahame - (C. Scribner's Sons, 1908)
The hook: The madcap adventures of Mr. Toad, Badger, Ratty, and Mole have enchanted children for over a century in this timeless English treasure. Enjoy the flawed but loyal friendships, weasel-ly villains, exciting battles, masterful illustrations, worthy themes, and sublime descriptions of the rural Thames riverbank. Great rollicking fun to read out loud!
Want to see the movie? The 1983 made-for-TV adaptation recreates the story in charming stop-motion animation.
Perfect for: Kids who like classics and adventures.
Find The Wind in the Willows at your local library.
by: Chris Van Allsburg - (Houghton Mifflin, 2002) 32 pages.
The hook: With the movie release of Chris Van Allsburg’s book, Zathura, children of all ages will be eager to read the book version. Many Allsburg fans waited a long time to finally find out what happened after Judy and Peter discarded the Jumanji game in the park. We were left with the Budwing brothers as they stumbled upon the mysterious box. When they open the box, they see the Jumanji game board and another space-themed board. This board transports the players from earth to a purple planet called Zathura. Before they know it the boys are swept up in a nail-biting, outer-space adventure. Will they survive a black hole, space ships and robots? This is a must read if you’ve always wondered what happened to Danny and Walter Budwing.
Want to see the movie? The 2005 adaptation is loosely based on the book and offers a cautionary lesson about getting along with your siblings.
Perfect for: Kids who like fantasy stories.
Find Zathura at your local library.