I got so much out of Deconstructing Penguins: Parents, Kids, and the Bond of Reading that I ordered my own copy before I finished the one I borrowed from the library. I’m glad I did because I’ve already referred to it again a few times.
The kids and I discuss books a lot. We talk about the books we read for our history and literature selections, we talk about the books we read out loud together just for fun, and we have mom/kid book club discussions when Hannah or Jack want me to read something they’ve read.
While I enjoy these discussions, I have not always been intentional about what to ask and how to direct the conversation. Sometimes I ask the kids for narrations (telling back what they remember–which also shows me their interpretations and how they weight different events, always interesting), and sometimes I let them bring up topics they want to cover. Deconstructing Penguins gave me a different way to tackle book discussions.
I love the framework the authors used–based on their years of leading real book groups with kids 2nd grade and up–of approaching each story as a mystery to solve, teaching kids how to find the protagonist and antagonist to get at what the themes and the author’s message are, and helping kids learn how to read critically. The method is a kid-friendly walk-through of literary analysis, and if you have studied literature as an adult it will feel familiar to you. But even if you haven’t read anything remotely literary since a tortured 10th grade English foray through The Scarlet Letter, Deconstructing Penguins will give you the tools to make yourself and your kids more discerning readers.
Since Hannah was re-reading The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler for the eleventy-hundredth time recently (it was one of my favorites too–must be a firstborn girl thing) and that book is one of the examples from Deconstructing Penguins, I decided to try the method out on my unsuspecting 8 year old. I re-read the book too (it’s still good!) and walked through a similar discussion to that described in Deconstructing Penguins. It worked out great! Hannah gave many similar answers to the ones described in the book, but it was also interesting to note where she veered off into other observations and connections. Overall, it was a really enjoyable book discussion and I think it was more fruitful than our usual free-for-all method.
If you want to encourage your kids to be good readers, or aren’t sure how to talk to them about books, I would highly recommend Deconstructing Penguins. It would be great if you want to lead group book clubs like the authors did, but it also works in a one-on-one setting. It’s a fabulous resource, and one you would not regret owning.
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