On a sunny afternoon this week, after school and before basketball practice, 11-year-old Will Rutledge was nestled on the couch engrossed in “The Hunger Games.” So was his mom, Natalie Rutledge, who sat reading on the couch beside him.
“Other books? I would rather play Xbox or watch TV or do anything else,” Will said. Not so with Suzanne Collins’ young adult bestseller that spawned the movie coming out Friday. Once he cracked it (or more precisely, downloaded it), Will was hooked. “The next thing I know I’m inside reading for three hours while everyone else is outside having a good time.”
Actually, his buddies have been zooming through the book as well.
“It started out with my friend,” said Will, a fifth grader at Ford Elementary School in Acworth. “The next thing you know my whole class is starting to read it, then my whole hallway is starting to read it. Now it seems like my whole school is starting to read it.”
His mother said reading the book together has provided opportunities to discuss issues surrounding the action.
“It reads like a grown up book but it’s for their level,” said Natalie Rutledge, whose 4-year-old, John Harris Rutledge, alternated between a video and a Hot Wheels magazine as his mom and brother enjoyed their joint reading period. She and Will hope to finish the book, which they’re both reading on tablet devices, by this weekend.
“We’re early in the book but now we can’t wait to see the movie together,” she said.
It seems safe to predict it will be a smash. The movie ticket website Fandango said advance ticket sales for “The Hunger Games” have already sold out thousands of screenings across the country.
“It’s our fastest-selling franchise-opener since ‘Twilight’,” Fandango general manager and executive vice president Rick Butler said in a statement. “The brisk advance ticket sales are a testament to the strength of the incredible marketing campaign which has clearly resonated with fans and even those unfamiliar with the books.”
Enormously robust book sales have fueled the hype, of course. There are more than 26 million copies of ”The Hunger Games” trilogy and movie tie-in titles in print in the United States, according to Scholastic, the books’ publisher.
Area parents say the books provide a meaningful tandem reading experience.
Martha Parker of east Cobb County was reluctant at first to let her then 10-year-old daughter delve in.
“When Katie told me the premise of the book I was pretty horrified and I could not imagine letting her read it,” she said. “The image of kids killing each other until only one is left standing is sort of horrifying.”
Katie’s now 11 and both mom and daughter have whipped through the books and look forward to the movie.
“We really hadn’t had in-depth conversations like that about books,” Parker said. “We talked about how violence was portrayed. I think it has made me realize her maturity level as far as reading books. I think she can handle some of the weightier topics.”
Nancy Anderson of Marietta has been reading the books ahead of her son Jonathan, 9. She’ll preview the movie herself before deciding if he’s ready.
Jonathan said the books have been a welcome challenge.
“I read a lot,” he said. “Most of the books for my age take me under an hour. I liked that almost every chapter left you on a cliff hanger. You wanted to read another one and another one. There was so much suspense.”
Reading together has been like a fun exercise in assessing Jonathan’s reading skills, which are keen.
“It was interesting to see how much he related to each character,” Nancy said.
“It feels as if you’re not reading it. It feels as if you’re Katniss and you’re experiencing it,” Jonathan said, referring to the heroine played by Jennifer Lawrence. “It’s like you’re seeing it.”
Who would he want to be friends with? Gale, played by Hemsworth, who is Katniss’ best friend and hunting companion.
“I could ask him questions about what he thought about Katniss going to the Hunger Games, and he could teach me about trapping,” Jonathan said.
Carol Milliron and her 12-year-old son Charlie have read the books together, too.
“He read the first one and started the second one while I was reading the first one,” said Milliron, who lives in the Vinings area. “He has been asking me to go see the movie ever since they said it was coming out.”
For them, “The Hunger Games” truly is a family affair. Milliron’s sister-in-law initially sparked her interest, and a cousin is such a fan that she asked for a bow and arrows for Christmas.
“Now she’s posting archery photos on Facebook,” Milliron said.
Although the book’s premise is stark and the plot is often violent, she’s treasured the time spent reading it with her son.
“He’s a voracious reader,” Milliron said. “It’s always been an interest between he and I. Before I know it he’ll be out of the house.”