Monday, July 13, 2015

Deconstructing Penguins, Parents, Kids, and the Bond of Reading by the Goldstones....

After listening to Sarah Mackenzie's Read Aloud Revival podcast with Lawrence Goldstone, I wanted to read his book, Deconstructing Penguins, Parents, Kids, and the Bond or Reading.  I'm thinking on starting a book club this fall with 5th and 6th graders so I'm gobbling up everything along the way to learn more.

Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone have been hosting parent/child book groups for years using great works of literature.  The title, Deconstructing Penguins, is based on their first book club discussion of Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater.  The Goldstone's quickly admit that first meeting didn't start so well and they've learned a lot since then.  They have come to the conclusion that every fiction book is a mystery.  They encourage their book club attendees to become book detectives by examining things like theme, plot, character, setting, protagonist, antagonist, conflict, and resolution.

In each chapter, the Goldstones exhibit dialog from various book discussions showing how they get participants to uncover the mystery.  The point being to figure out the author's point in writing...
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.  (Chapter 6)
Why is it important to understand the author's point?, you might ask...
In a world where younger and younger children are bombarded by slogans, come-ons, and sensory assaults, it is vital to learn  to evaluate the various messages that advertisers, media programmers, and even peers are promoting.  (Chapter 6)
The Goldstones assert that this discernment will carry over to other aspects of the child's life...
The most important thing that has come out of these discussion groups is that when a child learns that he or she need not simply run through a book and chalk it up as having been read, but rather should delve into what the book means, a great leap occurs.  The children make connections to other books or other fields, and develop a context within which to approach everything - from what they see on television to how to stand up to a bully on the school playground.  This leap has been reflected in their schoolwork.  More than once, parents have told us that their child's teacher has commented at school conferences on their son's or daughter's increased ability to read, understand, and participate in classroom discussions.   (Chapter 13)
I especially appreciated their final thoughts in the last chapter.  The first two ideas are very much in line with Charlotte Mason's promotion of living books...

1. What children read is important.

Here the Goldstones discuss the fact that kids develop their self-esteem from the same source as adults: taking on something that seems hard at first and then doing better at it than you every thought possible.  They assert that children know when an idea is being dumbed down, and no child develops genuine self-esteem from being praised for something he or she didn't work at.  We should not be praising just the fact that they are reading.  We should be sure they are ready worthy material

2. Kids enjoy depth. 

Kids are capable of a remarkable level of sophistication regardless of their reading level.  I couldn't agree more!!  I've always read aloud higher level books and found the children are certainly capable of digesting them.  I am utterly convinced that this practice also aids in better vocabulary, reasoning, and logic. 

In addition, the appendix lists possible books to use with grades 2-6, along with a brief synopsis and ideas for discussion. Overall, I found Deconstructing Penguins helpful.  Though I don't anticipate starting a parent/child book club, I'm intrigued by the idea.  


  1. I hope you don't mind me commenting here. I was looking for a contact me or email and couldn't find one.

    I've been searching your blog because I'm using TQ AHYS 1 with my 6 and 7 year old. I started last year and made it to the colonial times. I hope to finish up the colonial times before fall and work my way through the Revolution. Your information is so valuable! I did have a few questions I hope you don't mind answering.

    We go to a living books library near our home. The librarian, Robin, follows CM herself and is an amazing resource for our family. She also uses TQ. She helps me to relax a little and go with the flow. I do, however, have more of a planning spirit. She has those books in her basement and she has a bit more experience than I do. I'm still trying to figure out how to plan. I want to instill a love of history since I never had a love for it myself. Finally, as an adult I'm getting there. Because I have a 2 and 4 year old as well, I don't think I could read from four history books at the same time! That is awesome that you can do that! I have so many distractions in my school day. (My 4 year old was diagnosed with sleep apnea last year and so behavior is a major issue.) All those lovely "school with toddlers and preschooler" ideas don't work for me. Anyways, I'm off track. I'm explaining to you have any recommendations for me in this season of life.

    I basically follow CM principles. We haven't started grammar or spelling, but hope to this year using Reading Lessons Through Literature and English Lessons Through Literature. The reason I ask, I love your notebooks! (The new ones. I love the old ones, too, but I really like the CM way of allowing the child to make the relationships.) How old are your children when they start this? Do you start by writing down their narration and allow them to copy it? We're doing Outdoor Secrets and ELTL this year and both have a good amount of narration. I don't want to overwhelm them with notebooking since we've been very oral in the past with narrations. Any suggestions would be welcome.

    I can't thank you enough for your history posts.

  2. Thank you for your kind words Michelle. Please don't ever feel like you have to keep up or read "x: amount of books at one time. Every family needs to do what works for them. As a matter of fact, this past year, I narrowed it to two - three books at a time, of which, I split into two different reading sessions, one during "school time" and one before bed. Also, keep in mind, I have a dyslexic child who's primary means of learning is through my reading.

    What a blessing to have access to Robin's Children's Legacy Library! I'm familiar with her through various forums. Her work is a gift. As I gain experience in this crazy homeschooling thing called life, I'm starting to see, it isn't the amount of books our kids are reading. It's the type of books that make the real difference. Folks like Robin are giving homeschool families an opportunity to read the best books available.

    The age at which we begin notebooking really varies from child to child. I sent you an e-mail with some information that may be helpful. I also intend to write a post here at some point for those interested in beginning notebooking.

    Many Blessings,

    1. I just now received this reply! Thank you for your email and this reply. Robin's library is truly a blessing!

      (You're a lot of places! I "saw" you over on the Barefoot Ragamuffins forum the other day! :) )