NEW YORK -- For some school kids around the country, the odds have been ever (and awesomely!) in their favor as they've scored the ultimate field trip – an outing to "The Hunger Games."
"All of my friends who don't go to my school are all really jealous," said 15-year-old David Schwartz. He was among about 500 ninth-grade English students from New Rochelle High School in suburban New York City who were taken to the movie on opening day last Friday.
Lexis Eberly was among 120 seventh-graders treated to opening day from Tuslaw Middle School in Massillon, Ohio. Her review: "If I had the chance, I would go see the movie 20 more times!"
For both, the field trip was the result of a blockbuster movie coinciding with their curriculum: They were assigned "The Hunger Games," the first book in Suzanne Collins' best-selling trilogy, as summer reading heading into the school year.
In New Rochelle, the book has anchored much of the work in freshman English since the first day of school. They've written letters from the point of view of main characters and created maps of the arena where kids fight other kids to the death as the bawdy ruling class watches on TV in Collins' dystopian world.
Some teachers and parents said they hoped the field trips would help their reluctant readers.
Brigid Barry, the English program administrator at Greenwich High School in Connecticut, said about 50 ninth- through 12th-graders from Literacy Workshop, a program at the school, were treated to the movie.
"Sometimes you get a kid in the program who has never read a full book, so to see them excited to read this one, to accomplish that, is really something," Barry said.
Mered Kopstein, one of the New Rochelle teachers who arranged private screenings at a local theater, said the outing achieved something else at her school, where more than 3,000 students are broken into smaller "learning communities": It provided a rare chance to bring them together through text they've all devoured.
That point wasn't lost on at least one of the students, 14-year-old Adrian McCullough. "It was more about unity, I think, as a group," he said. "It wasn't about getting out of class."
While it's generally gotten favorable reviews, some film critics have torn into the movie like a bloodthirsty "muttation" – in the book's parlance, an animal genetically altered for use as a weapon. But these students hadn't read any reviews, and didn't care much what the grown-ups thought, anyway.
They were too busy comparing the movie to the book, and comparing the story to others from class, like "Lord of the Flies," "Great Expectations," "The Lottery" and "The Most Dangerous Game."
The first of a series of planned "Hunger Games" films broke the record for a non-sequel over the weekend with a $153 million haul at the box office in the United States and Canada, surpassing predictions and giving it the third-highest opening weekend ever.
Not all parents were pleased about the field trip to see the movie, which earned a PG-13 rating based on a toned-down script co-written by Collins herself. Some school outings for younger kids, in fifth and sixth grade, were canceled after small numbers of parents complained.
Hamilton International Middle School in Wallingford, Wash., bagged a sixth-grade trip to see the movie because parents were concerned about violence, according to The Seattle Times. School administrators did not return calls from The Associated Press for comment.
At the private Seattle Girls School in Washington, only one family decided to opt out of a movie outing for about 20 students later this week.
"It's clearly a pretty violent book," said Rafael del Castillio, the head of school. "But I do wonder why we collectively are so worried about violence in this particular book and this particular movie," he added, noting the pitfalls of video games and other media kids consume heavily.
In California, Carol Stevenson's sixth-grader, 12-year-old Jacob, and his schoolmates from Santa Clarita International Charter School were taken to the movie on opening day after his teacher read the book aloud to his class.
"This is a widely diverse group in ethnicity, talent, ability," Stevenson said. "He was the envy of his friends who don't go to that school."
And Jacob's take?
"I don't really recommend the movie," he said. "The book was much better."
Tool kits for teachers looking to hop on "The Hunger Games" bandwagon are all over the Internet. Some teachers have made quick classroom lessons of the movie after students returned from the film.
"If I was not in Literacy Workshop this year, I might not have read this book, but I would have seen the movie," 16-year-old Sydney Curley, a sophomore at Greenwich High, wrote to her teacher.
She added: "I think people watching the movie without having read the book would miss out on a lot of the underlying feelings of the characters."
At Tuslaw, the Ohio middle school, seventh-graders had been counting down to the movie after spinning off an array of projects from their study of the book.
They made movie posters and dreamed up alternate endings, created models of the arena and costumes, and acted out entire scenes in movies of their own making that they posted on YouTube.
In Denver, Anne Parsons has a reluctant reader in 13-year-old daughter Clare, who went to the movie with her seventh-grade class at the public Hill Campus of Arts & Sciences. Their teacher made reading the book a requirement for students to make the movie trip.
"She's not an avid reader but she loved this book," Parsons said. "She finished it quickly, so I thought the movie was worth it for that alone."