Tuesday, March 4, 2008

888 Check In: I am deconstructing...

I have always considered myself to be an intelligent person. I am well read; I use words that make others scrunch up their faces in perplexion – or eyes gloss over in boredom; I have been called pedantic. But there is nothing like reading a book on how to critically discuss children’s literature to put me in my place.

I decided to read Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone’s "Deconstructing Penguins" after seeing several rave reviews on the WTM homeschool board. I had also seen it on several bloggers lists of books they were reading or were planning to read. Amazon has good reviews. And my library had the book…so I put it on reserve.

The basic premise of the book is that an author has intentional layers in his book – and it’s up to us as readers to solve the mystery of what the book is really about. By figuring out what a book really means, we move from being passive readers to active critical thinkers. The authors formed a child/parent book club and they used their technique to help children and their parents find the underlying meaning in the books they read. The first book they discussed was “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” which gave birth to the title of this book as they deconstructed the message of the story.

So…why do I feel like an idiot? In the book, the Goldstones state: “…you don’t need an advanced degree in English literature or forty hours a week of free time to effectively discuss a book with your child. This isn’t 'Crime and Punishment', it’s 'Charlotte’s Web'.” The authors do an amazing job of helping the members of their book group deconstruct titles such as "Babe: The Gallant Pig," "Frindle," "View from Saturday," "Phantom Tollbooth," and even some poetry. But…wow…I never would have arrived at the conclusions that they found. I am still not sure that I can arrive at the correct protagonist and antagonist for the books that I read.

And then, one of my favorite young adult books, "The Giver" by Lois Lowry is slammed in a chapter called “Obvious Characters, Contrived Endings, and Convenient Plot devices.” I understand their points after reading the chapter. But…I liked that story…and its subsequent sequels. And it even won the Newberry in 1994! Perhaps my critical thinking skills are a bit rusty…

I am looking forward to “deconstructing” "Animal Farm" with Katie next week…but only because this book is going to hold my hand through the process. I am looking forward to opportunities to discuss all the mentioned books with my children. But…what am I going to do for books that are not mentioned? The book does not give me a plug and go formula for dealing with other books…and after reading it…I am not sure that I have the skills to deconstruct on my own…

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4 comments:

Life With My 3 Boybarians said...

Kat,

After being person #85743985625 in line at my library and realizing I can't wait that long to get this book, I finally ordered about a week ago from Amazon. It's on its way here now. Hope I can figure this stuff out. ;)

Anonymous said...

Hi. This is Larry Goldstone. Don't be discouraged. The process is far more important than the result. Critical analysis is a subjective activity. In our groups there was always gobs of disagreement. The point of our book (and we've seen this sort of comment before) is not to have parents and kids retrace the path to our conclusions, but to learn to forge their own. If you and your daughter hash out The Giver, for example, and decide that the author made a valid point, and did so fairly, then use your conclusions, not ours. From there, you simply need to determine what you and Katie think of that message. It is the discussion, the rigor of the exercise that matters, not where you end up. The relationship you forge listening to each other, dealing in an atmosphere of mutual respect will carry over to other facets of your lives.
Hope this helps.

my5wolfcubs said...

I have the book from the library too! I can't believe I'm commenting after the author!! :) I haven't gotten to the chapter on The Giver yet...must go finish the book.
Lee

Tiffany said...

Two things - do you recommend this book? And is the author Goldstone REALLY the one who commented on this post?