Kids Actually Read the Books That Movies Are Based On

Data from learning software reveals that novels surge in popularity when they're turned into films.

On Friday, the movie The Maze Runner hits theaters. The big-screen version has been adapted from a book of the same title, written by James Dashner in 2007. Thanks to the movie—and perhaps contrary to what you might think—kids all over the United States are picking the book up before they see the film. According to data from Renaissance Learning more than 10,000 students read The Maze Runner last May, compared with fewer than 3,000 in 2011 when the movie deal was announced.
It turns out that movie releases do in fact spur kids to read the books they're based on. Just look at The Hunger Games, one of the more obvious example of the movie bump. In February of 2012, the month the movie was released, about 70,000 school kids read the book. In April, the month after the movie’s debut, 180,000 students were turning the pages of The Hunger Games. The same goes for The Lorax, which saw a huge spike in readership the month the movie was released. (In these graphs, the orange lines show the month the movie came out.)

Number of Students Reading The Hunger Games, by Month
Renaissance Learning

Number of Students Reading The Lorax, by Month
Renaissance Learning

The data behind these graphs comes from Accelerated Reader, a software program used by teachers to track the reading their students do both in and out of class. About a third of U.S. schools use AR—in total, the data here shows about 30,000 schools and about 10 million students. Last year those students read a grand total of 330 million books. It’s not a complete picture, showing reading by students in just a slice of the United States, but it still highlights some interesting trends when it comes to how movies impact readers.
Accelerated Reader collects this data to try and help teachers figure out which books their students might like. “At reading conferences there’s a lot of discussion among teachers about what books are spiking interest,” Eric Stickney of AR told me. “The overall purpose here is to help parents and teachers and librarians identify books for kids that they want to read.”
But not every work gets a bump from movies. Books like The Giver and The Great Gatsby saw essentially no change at all. This is likely because these two classics have been assigned reading for years—students are given these books in school, movie or not, and the big-screen release has little effect on that.

Number of Students Reading The Giver, by Month
Renaissance Learning

The data here also turns on its head the idea that if kids see a movie they’ll no longer want to read the book. Films for books like The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner show a clear correlation between a movie’s release and the number of students who are reading the books. “I think when there’s a movie out what we’re seeing in the data is that kids are drawn to it,” Stickney says. “Maybe it’s a social thing, they want to be able to talk about the movie and the book with their friends.”
When it comes to The Maze Runner, there’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg question here—is the book surging in popularity because of the movie, or was the movie made because producers noticed it gaining popularity among kids? Probably a little bit of both, Stickney says, but if you’re worried about your kid not wanting to read the book after seeing the movie, this data suggests you should worry about something else.