Monday, August 27, 2007

Deconstructing Penguins

Jove wrote about Deconstructing Penguins a couple of weeks ago here and here. I commented at her blog without having read the book, so then I felt I needed to find a copy and make good. I was able to order it at the library and read it this weekend.

In this short book Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone show that meaningful discussion of books is not beyond the capabilities of children, and they show you how to do it. Their explanations and examples of the various elements of literature are sound and explained through examples. Samples of dialog (responses from children and the Goldstone's own questions) illustrate just how easily extracting meaning from books can happen with younger children.

In my opinion, these conversations are part of a child's encouragement to read and to think. Though book clubs are fun, the dinner table and living room are an even better place to chat about books. By making the conversations a natural part of reading and living, you don't confine serious book talk to the classroom. I don't believe that the conversations need to be structured or conclude in finding the one true meaning of the book. I do believe that giving children tools (words and methodology) to seek meaning in literature can open relationships with books and give children confidence in siting and proving their opinions.

Be ever cautious, though. One sure way to extinguish the fun of reading is over analysis. The same goes with those boring question and answer sheets in which the answers to the questions can always be copied directly from the text, and with discussions so open-ended that you don't even have to read the book to participate. Find a middle ground, especially with younger children, that enriches the book and gives them a reason to read.

For further reading:
Reading Strands by The National Writing Institute is an older, not quite as polished, book that provides examples of Socratic questioning and information about the literary elements. It also contains extensive book lists though some of the selections are not those I would choose.

Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster is a compilation of a lecture series about novels. Though this material is certainly more advanced than the needs of a homeschool teacher of primary level children, the information is thoughtfully presented by a great novelist who we would assume knows one or two things. I like this book because it is informative and as well written as a novel.

A Glossary of Literary Terms by M.H. Abrams is probably in its 200th printing (I have my tattered 5th from graduate school), but it is the standard by which all other books of this sort are judged. It is a tool for those seriously interested in literature, for not only does it explain and clarify literary terms and devices, it succinctly discusses schools of literary criticism in case you want to do something other than deconstruct. Again, this is much more than you may need, but is a wonderful reference for inquiring minds.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I might try to find that Forster one after Xmas. It looks like it might be the kind of thing I need (for me).

I totally agree that discussion over dinner or more casually is ideal. And we try to do this. Sometimes I want some helpful prompts to discussion and so many of the questions easily available out there are problematic. And clearly however I was taught didn't take. Or at least not in a way that makes it accessible to me as an example.