Deconstructing Penguins: Parents, Kids, and the Bond of Reading has been added to my essentials list. For any adult who desires to read and discuss books with children (their own or others), this book is a valuable resource.
The authors use their experience in leading parent/child book clubs to encourage parents and children to read a book like a puzzle, to discover hidden ideas rather than reading passively. Using basic literary elements~theme, setting, character, point of view, climax, and conflict~they show an adult how to develop meaningful conversations centered around a shared reading experience.
I enjoyed the detailed conversations of specific books in each chapter. Many of the books I have read, which certainly helped me understand where the conversations were leading. Although, I must admit, I originally spent little (or no) time dissecting the elements of each book.
I tend to simply experience each book I read and see it through my own little lens. Did I like it/dislike it? How do I feel about it? What spoke to me? Did I learn anything? Did it change my view of life in any way? Surely I learned about protagonists and antagonist in school, but I never internalized the lesson when it came to my own reading.
I am looking forward to using the lessons learned in Deconstructing Penguins to discuss literature with my boys. It would be tedious to have similar discussions on every book we read, but I think that engaging in thoughtful conversation after certain book selections will open our eyes and minds when reading other literature.
Deconstructing Penguins is directed specifically to second-fifth graders (with book lists included), but the ideas can easily be adapted to other grades, or even for adult reading. Obviously the conversational style is meant for discussions, either parent/child or for book clubs, but I felt that the information was relevant for getting the most out of independent reading, as well.
I found the book selections to be interesting. I never would have chosen Animal Farm for third graders (although I liked where the authors went with the discussion), and it seems as if The Giver would be more appropriate for late middle-school (again, rather than third grade). I did appreciate the chapter on introducing children to poetry. The authors remind the reader that their book lists are merely suggestions.
What children read is important. The theory, still in vogue, that says that 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 have to struggle a little it might leave them feeling bad about themselves. Nothing could be more wrong-headed or 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.