Sunday, October 5, 2008

Deconstructing Penguins: A Review

One among many homeschooling goals I have is to help my children become thinkers: to be able to engage a book, movie, lecture or any other aspect of culture and discerningly embrace the good, noble and redeemable from that which is false or ungodly. I realize this road I desire to lead my children down is one I have just begun to journey myself as I was not given these tools in my education.

I was your typical memorize and regurgitate the facts kind of kid. I would figure out just what the teachers wanted from me in order to get the grade I desired, and unfortunately thinking was rarely a part of the equation. Specifically, when it came to reading I was typically given a book and then asked to do a report or answer a series of basic comprehension questions – again, no real thinking, just spitting out facts.

In comes Desconstructing Penguins: Parents, Kids and the Bond of Reading. This book is an account of the authors’ experiences leading literature discussion groups with second through fourth graders at their local library. In these groups they taught the participants (and through them, now us) how to determine the protagonist and antagonist, analyze the setting, identify the climax and ultimately to discover the hidden meaning in a book. And all this was done with seven through nine year olds! In addition they showed the children how to “grade” the author: Did s/he achieve his/her objectives and did they break any rules doing so? There is also a wonderful chapter (possibly my favorite) on poetry.

I learned these terms (protagonist, antagonist, climax, setting…) in school and probably was even tested over the material in a “match the word to its definition kind of way”. Unfortunately, I was never taught that most books (at least most good ones) have great underlying themes that I could discover on my own using these elements as a type of road map. I thought the protagonist was simply the good guy and the antagonist the bad guy, and the main significance of the setting was to identify what genre of literature I was reading. After reading this book I feel much better prepared to walk my children a little farther on down the road to becoming real thinkers and I will be journeying right along beside them!

If you could use some help teaching your children how to do real and meaningful literature analysis then read Desconstructing Penguins! You won’t be sorry. Also, leave a comment if you have other books you can recommend that would help me on my journey to become a thinker. I’d love to add a few to my wishlist for Christmas. Next, I'll be reading Mortimer Adler's classic, How to Read a Book.



Paige said...


Thanks for sharing this review. I have been on the fence about purchasing this. After reading what you had to say, I realize that it's exactly what I have been looking for. I'll be watching for your review of How to Read a Book.

mom24 said...

This one looks exciting to me! I was educated the same way and I often wonder "How am I going to teach them to think - really think??" I will surely be getting my hands on this one! Thanks for the review!

ps. Are the boys talking to your 'tummy' yet? ;-)

Makita said...

Where did you find it? I checked our local library and Amazon and had no luck.

Jennefer said...


Here is the Amazon link:

I am going to go back and link the photo of the book to Amazon as well. Sorry I didn't initially do that. Let me know if you need anything else!


argsmommy said...

Hi! I found your blog through Darcy's blog and have enjoyed going through all your past posts. Thanks for this review -- I just picked it up from the library tonight and am headed to bed to start reading right now. : )


Stacy said...

Thanks for reminding me that this book was on my list of books to check out at the library...I had forgotten!
Stacy :-)

Beth said...

Thanks for this great review! As for other books in this category...I enjoyed the concepts behind "A Thomas Jefferson Education" but my favorite suggestion would be "Teaching the Classics-From Seuss to Socrates:Literary Analysis for Everyone". I like that Andrew holds your hand and explains it all on DVD! It's great.

Max Weismann said...

We have recently made an exciting discovery--three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos on the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

When we discovered them and how intrinsically edifying they are, we negotiated an agreement with Encyclopaedia Britannica to be the exclusive worldwide agent to make them available.

For those of you who teach, this is great for the classroom.

I cannot over exaggerate how instructive these programs are--we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

Please go here to see a clip and learn more: