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Deconstructing Penguins: Parents, Kids, and the Bond of Reading    by Lawrence Goldstone & Nancy Goldstone order for
Deconstructing Penguins
by Lawrence Goldstone
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2005 (2005)

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* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

In Deconstructing Penguins, Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone promote parent-child book groups 'to unlock the wonder of what a book means'. They recommend reading for the pleasure of deciphering what a story is about. For example, is it a made-up, closed, open, or a totalitarian society such as in Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time? Is there a protagonist and antagonist? What is the setting? The authors disagree with the message of 'passive reading', i.e. that reading anything is better than reading nothing at all.

The Goldstones began with second through fourth graders and their parents. They say, 'Learn to be a book detective - every fiction book is a mystery!' Those used by the Goldstones in their groups include: The View From Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg, George Orwell's Animal Farm, Carolyn Meyer's White Lilacs, and Charlotte's Web by E. B. White. They recommend analyzing poetry and studying the life of the poet, as in Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken, and How Many, How Much by Shel Silverstein. Their techniques include discussion of characters' traits, realism vs. fantasy, the factors that make up a protagonist and antagonist, the author's intentions, and the anatomy of a book - all through questions and answers. They suggest that parent-child groups seed the development of an appreciation for children's literature.

Promoting the benefits of parent-child book groups, the Goldstones tell us that 'What children read is important', and encourage readers to 'start them off with books that are well written ... plots that demand attention ... characters with depth and wit'. They say that 'Kids enjoy depth' and personal identification ('I like this book because'). They tell us to 'Have a blueprint for the discussion', in other words 'what you want the child to walk away with', and suggest managing the discussion with 'steady, identifiable progress that children can follow'. Additional good rules include: 'Group books by theme', that is 'a multiple-book approach ... allowing kids to contrast styles and rate the author's success at communicating his or her message'; 'Be patient' and 'show interest in their opinions'; and 'Show enthusiasm'to make it fun, 'not a matter of taking medicine'.

This is an insightful book that assists adults in developing children's love of reading by investigating the hidden meaning of stories. I would have preferred more information on the authors' interaction with parents and children as opposed to their focus on describing the books used with the groups. However, I recommend Deconstructing Penguins to parents and teachers, school and public librarians, as well as book discussion leaders.

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