Friday, August 6, 2010

Deconstructing Penguins, by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone

This book was highly recommended by Jim Trelease in the Read-Aloud Handbook.  So I decided to check it out and see what the fuss was about. 




Deconstructing Penguins is a small, unintimidating book.  Less then 200 pages, paperback and in an easy to read font and format.  I'm still a bit surprised with how much I learned from the book!

The authors, a couple from Connecticut who have a daughter, had decided they wanted to start a book club for their daughter and her friends.  So after researching, they decided to do it at the library and have the kids and their parents join.  The book is about their experiences, but even more then that, it is an awesome tool for learning how to  'deconstruct' a book.


I was blown away by the books that the young kids were reading and understanding.  Esp at the level they seemed to understand them.  It's a phenomal tool that I hope to hone in myself.

After doing Precepts Bible studies for 5 years, I realized that there is more to life/book/people then meets the eye. I also realized that digging deeper into things is a skill that does not come natural, but must be honed and practiced until it becomes second nature.  I can't say it's second nature with the Bible yet, but I'm slowly working on it.  I hope that by doing the same with books, my over-all ability to think and dig will become more sharp, and that will translate to my daily Scripture reading as well.

Back to the book though.  The title is a bit odd.  You understand it once you read the book, but still it strikes me as a strange title.  As no one would pick it up if they were looking to learn to run a book club, and just happened to see the name.  But, the first book they deconstructed was about penguins, and hence the name.

They essentially took you on a 'book club tour' of their clubs throughout the 5 years they had been doing them.  But more of a long-range tour. The characters (kids and parents) were adorable and well portrayed.   And they did a fantastic job of explaining with words and examples, how to deconstruct a book.

They explain to their book clubs at the first meeting that they need to look at books like a mystery, and try to solve it.

-First, locate the protagonist and antagonist.  They explain how to do this and give a number of examples.  They suggest you list character traits and try to understand the overall plot or theme of the book.  Every 'story' book has a conflict.  The protagonist pushes the conflict forward, while the antagonist pushes it back.  I had never thought of it that way. There was always good and bad in my mind.  But sometimes the protagonist is evil.  It depends somewhat on the author's point of view and the way he advances it.

-Second, figure out the location and setting.  They used the book 'Babe' to explain that the setting was a farm in the near present.  Future, past, present.  Earth, town, space.  Understanding where the book takes places is an important clue in solving the mystery.

-Third, identify the climax.  We think of the climax as the end, but often it's closer to the middle of the book.  It's 'that moment in the book to which everything is building, and after which events become inevitable.'  They show a diagram of how Shakespeare writes in 5 acts. The first is the introduction of characters, the second is them thrown into conflict together and it builds, the 3rd is the climax, where the protagonist is changed forever.  The 4th is the impact the climax has on the characters the the 5th  is where we find out what happens to everyone.

-Fourth, is figuring out what the book is really about.  And that is easier said then done. 'The highlight of almost any discussion is the discovery of what the author has implanted at the core of the book.  Peeling away each layer-character, setting, conflict-and finally seeing the truth is probably the most satisfying aspect of reading.'  They show how they walked the kids through Animal Farm by George Orwell.  And eventually helped them to see that the book was more then just a story about animals.  It was a depiction of the Russian Revolution.

-Fifth, they tried to get the kids to see how a person's point of view greatly affects the book.  Just because a book is famous, does not mean the author has the right point of view.  And they try to tie it in to things like the clothes the kids wear, ads, tv shows, clicks, etc.  Isn't that great?  And these are 'normal kids' in a 'normal school', learning these awesome lessons!  To do this, they use the book 'Bull Run' by Paul Fleischman.  It's about the American civil war and is told from 16 different people.  It's eye opening to see how the same scenario can be see so differently by different people.  Amazing stuff to grasp by the age of 12.  I'm just getting it at 32!

-Sixth, Poetry was discussed.  I do not appreciate poetry, but I want to!  Their love of poetry was definitely contagious though.  Makes me want to read some Robert Frost and Shel Silverstein. :)  They basically take the kids through the poetry one line at a time.  They talk about the author, as that is generally important to understanding the poetry.  They talk about how poetry often 'opens up' and goes from objective to subjective.  From tangible to something deeper.  Neat, eh?

The rest of the book takes you through some examples of their book clubs.  Practicing what you've learned, to help you better put it into practice with other books.  They also have a list of books for 2-5th grade.  5th graders read Tale of Two Cities.  I'm impressed.  I couldn't get through the first chapter!

I would love to start or join a book club.  Esp for the kids.  I'm not sure if it'll happen, but I see that being more of a possibility today then before I read the book! :)  I hope to implement this type of digging/deconstructing, into our book reports.

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