This is not meant to be so much a review of Deconstructing Penguins: Parents, Kids, and the Bond of Reading as it is a place for me to jot down a few notes about my initial responses to it. I read this book with an eye to using the Goldstones’ methods and plans either in our individual homeschool or, even better, with a group. I’m still working out in my mind just what this might look like, so I have nothing concrete to share as of yet.
- The Goldstones started bookclubs with children as young as second grade. I’m not sure I completely agree that it’s desirable to start teaching the elements of literary analysis to young children. It seems to me that in general, children of that age would require a good bit of leading to get to the point that they could actually discuss things like protagonist/antagonist and theme. I think this might be one area to which I subscribe to the “better late than early” philosophy. I’ve been listening to a Susan Wise Bauer lecture on writing in the middle school years, and she mentions just this very thing–that early elementary aged students are best asked to tell about a story, not to analyze it. I don’t guess I’m saying that no student of that age can do it; I’m just saying that perhaps our energies should best be expended elsewhere.
- With all that being said, I really, really love that this book shows the possibilities for rich discussion with an engaged audience. I realize that the discussions they mention are likely composites of years of bookclubs and not just one single meeting, but WOW!–I never had such discussions even in the community college classes I taught! That makes me question my own methods, mostly–how could I have pulled more people into the discussion? (This, of course, assumes they read the book to begin with. . .)
- I wish the Goldstones had shared a little more in the way of how they prepared for the clubs. I get the sense that their introduction of literary terms, etc., must’ve been intentional, but they didn’t share any of the details. This is the part that puzzles me most. The only other resource I’ve heard of in homeschooling circles that explicitly teaches literary terms is Figuratively Speaking, but I wonder if it would be a little too explicit (i.e. workbookish) for my taste. Thoughts, anyone?
- I finished this book completely energized and inspired to want to try something like this myself. My girls and I started participating in a mother-daughter bookclub at the library last year, but the books are chosen by participants, with no rhyme or reason as to why, just really through personal preference and popularity. Again, I’m really going to give this some thought to try to figure out how I can make this more intentional bookclub work for us.
- The last chapter, entitled “Some (Almost) Final Thoughts,” is by far the most inspirational in the whole book. I nodded and underlined as I read. This paragraph gets a hearty yes from me:
What children read is important. The theory, still in vogue, that says it doesn’t matter what your child reads as long as he or she reads something is just plain wrong. If anyone tries to convince you otherwise, don’t believe it. This notion springs from the assumption that kids need success–any success–to bolster their self-esteem, and if they struggle a little it might leave them feeling bad about themselves. Nothing could be more wrong-headed or more insulting to children. Kids’ self-esteem comes from the same source as adults’ self-esteem: taking on something that seems hard at first and then doing better at it than you ever thought possible. Kids are hip; they know when they’re being dumbed down, and no child develops genuine self-esteem from being praised for something he or she didn’t work at. (189-90)
I’m really trying hard this year to praise my girls’ efforts more than the results, especially when it comes to difficult versus easy tasks. This is a good reminder.
One last note: I just realized that episode eight of the Read Aloud Revival podcast is an interview with Lawrence Goldstone. I’m going to listen to that one sooner rather than later.
If you’ve read Deconstructing Penguins and applied it in any way, please, do share in the comments!