Deconstructing Penguins by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone (Ballantine Books, 2005) has the attractive subtitle of “Parents, Kids, and the Bond of Reading.” Given my love of reading classic and quality literature to my son, this sounded like it would be a perfect fit for me.
Once I began reading, however, I found that the Goldstone’s focus was on discussing children’s literature in a parent-child book group setting. Although I did enjoy reading their thoughts about the deeper meanings behind various classic children’s novels, stories, and poems, I was a bit disappointed in the book overall. I had hoped for something to inspire parents in reading to their children. Deconstructing Penguins did that to some extent. But at the same time it seemed to talk to the most unintelligent of parents. I would hope that most parents reading their children Mr. Popper’s Penguins are wise enough to know that it is more than just a story about penguins! Do parents and children really need a formal reading group to discuss the issues such classic novels address?
Maybe my bias is due to the fact that I did study literature in depth, searching for meanings and themes, as an English major. It seems obvious to me that as I read a classic children’s novel with my children (such as Charlotte’s Web, The Giver, or The Phantom Tollbooth) that I’d open a dialogue with my child about what the book is really about. On the other hand, my son is only four so I don’t yet do this very much: we read for the sake of enjoying a story. I don’t want to kill the love of literature and story.
All that said, discussing books in a group setting is a lot of fun. I am a part a book group and when I walk out of meetings I feel I better understand the books, besides the fact that it’s simply a lot of fun to talk about a book that I like. Deconstructing Penguins is a great book to help parents or teachers get a book group started for second to fifth graders. I loved how they assigned books to these young readers that may be considered by some as “too hard,” such as Animal Farm. The children appreciated the book and understood the deeper meanings. I’m a big believer in not dumbing down literature for kids.
In short, as a manual for leading a book group for upper elementary students, Deconstructing Penguins is an inspiring and helpful volume. For parents hoping to instill a love of learning in their young children, it may not be as helpful.