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Deconstructing Penguins: Parents, Kids, and the Bond of Reading

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  651 ratings  ·  114 reviews
“Books are like puzzles,” write Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone. “The author’s ideas are hidden, and it is up to all of us to figure them out.” In this indispensable reading companion, the Goldstones–noted parent-child book club experts–encourage grownups and young readers alike to adopt an approach that will unlock the magic and power of reading.

With the Goldstones help,
Paperback, 206 pages
Published May 3rd 2005 by Ballantine Books
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Average rating 4.10  · 
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 ·  651 ratings  ·  114 reviews

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Jan 04, 2016 rated it did not like it
To let you know where I'm coming from, I'm a homeschool parent, I studied literature in college, and I'm a writer. And this book made me want to run headfirst into the nearest wall.

The Goldstones' premise is that when an author writes a book, they start out by thinking of some moral lesson they want to impart, then create a plot around it. If kids are trained like dogs to sniff out the protagonist, antagonist, setting, climax, and other stuff that makes me sleepy, they can then peel all that
Fred Gorrell
Jul 25, 2011 rated it liked it
The authors are book collectors who have been conducting a popular parent-child book club series in a public library in Connecticut. This book describes their experience with the book clubs and shares their program. Each chapter incorporates brief summaries of the books they shared at their meetings and a description of how they focused their discussion to help readers think critically about the books. They lean very heavily on classic titles for young people, and they take issue with the ...more
Oct 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2016, 2016-tbr
Love this idea of a Book Detective book club. Wish I was taught to read and critique books in this way. I've always had troubles taking a book to the next level after comprehension. I love how the children and parents participated together and opinions accepted as equals. A wonderful way to develop a love of learning and close relationships between book and child, parent and child, and adults and child. I am so inspired now use the tools provided and share with family and friends.
Mar 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I think the subtitle of this book is uninformative, a lost opportunity to really tell people what it's about. "Parents, kids, and the bond of reading"? Sounds lovely. But what does it MEAN?

People, this book is awesome. It's about teaching kids to be book detectives, how to find out what a book is REALLY about. It teaches you how to guide kids through a discussion of a book, identifying the protagonist and antagonist, what their conflict is about, how the setting and other elements contribute,
Sep 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A great inspiration for parent-kid book club. It makes the kids think and teaches them how to interpret what the author is talking about.
This book will definitely help me have meaningful book discussions with my kids.
Amanda - Cover2CoverMom
Jul 16, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
You can read all of my reviews on my blog -> Cover2CoverMom Blog

*3.5 Stars*

This was a very interesting little book about a husband & wife team that run book clubs for parents & their children. The Goldstone team encourages book club members to be "book detectives" and work on breaking down books into their elements (characters: protagonist vs antagonist, setting, themes, etc.) to really dig into what the author was trying to convey with the books they read.

The authors go through and
Feb 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
"The best part is that every September, the experience renews itself." (brb, sobbing.)
Sep 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: education, nonfiction
If you are not yet involved with a parent and child reading group this book is going to make you want to begin one or join one. Not only that, it's going to put plenty of "tools in your belt" to pull it off with success!

I loved all the examples they used. Admittedly I was surprised at some of their selections, but I am duly persuaded that they will all work if approached as presented here.

In fact, one afternoon my sixteen-year-old mentioned that she needed to write an essay on "agency" or "free
Aug 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book takes you through protagonist and antagonist characters(it's deeper and more subtle than I ever realized), how to discover a fiction author's reason for writing a book, how to run a parent/child bookclub, AND a bunch of individual books that they love to read with elementary-age school kids and why (I really love booklists). I didn't know Jack London was a socialist. These authors say that Buck going to be head of the wolf pack was London's way of saying that employees are suppressed ...more
Oct 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is a great how-to book for leading book discussions, especially with children. It is neat to learn from books at multiple levels. I can see how discussing the books we read can really make the impact they have on our lives more solidified and applicable.

I was also impressed that book discussions with children AND parents together can have an even greater impact.

One statement that really stood out was that it DOES matter WHAT children read. Some say that it doesn't matter what kids read as
Jun 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: homeschool, writing
Returned unfinished. It seemed that after the initial few chapters explaining how they got into parent-child book groups, each chapter was about a particular book. I skimmed the one about The Giver, because I really, really did not like that book. They very simply, yet thoroughly, analyzed the plot and problems and implications. I was impressed. I will definitely be checking this book out again, and the blueprint for understanding a book will stay with me. Highly recommended.
Oct 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
I thought this book to be an incredible resource for kids.. i really liked the techniques such as approaching the book like a mystery, or the protagonist/antagonist techniques. Going to apply it with my child!
I need to read this again....

An EXCELLENT resource for learning how to discuss literature with children. I had borrowed this from the library, but I'll be ordering my own copy (which says a lot about how much I value its message!).
Jan 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Quick to read, but gives you lots to ponder. Great insight into how to get children to critically think about literature.
Anne Bogel
Jun 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
If you ever read books with kids, it's worth reading through this how-to handbook at least once.
Sep 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This is a great book about reading critically for fun with grade school kids.
Abbey Dupuy
Sep 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone have created a solid template that adults could use to guide a children's and parents' book group in discussing almost any book. They have done this in a way that is accessible and easy to implement, given a willing group of adults and kids as participants. They have also shown parents a way to help their children become active readers who seek to understand the meaning of what they read and who tie their reading life to their loved experience. I appreciated their ...more
Jan 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: parenting
Ever wanted to start a book club?

Never know what questions to ask your children to get a deeper discussion from the books they're reading?

Want to know how to deconstruct any book and teach any child to become a "book detective"?

This is your book. Such an easy, fast read packed with literal examples and discussions that you can apply to walk yourself and anyone else through a book to glean depth and a broader understanding. The beauty of this book is truly in the application. Applying the
Aug 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
I love their take on discussing books with kids! I used to teach middle school English, so helping kids discover elements like plot, setting, characters, and theme is nothing new to me. But I love the way they approach it! (And I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t know the fully accurate definitions of protagonist and antagonist until they explained them in this book.) They really encourage children to peel back the layers of a story, to find what the author was trying to say, and to think ...more
Being both a newly passionate reader and a homeschooling mom working her way out of a job, this book was an amazing and encouraging read. The authors recount their parent-child book club journey giving numerous and specific examples of titles, topics, conversations, and methods of discussing good and great works of literature. Who would have thought we could introduce literary criticism to parents and their young children at the same time? I whole-heartedly agree with the premise of this work: “ ...more
Jul 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is a treasure. Readers of all ages can learn much from this relatively small volume. The authors report on the beginnings of a book group for grades 2-4 and their parents which started with a discussion of "Mr. Popper's Penguins." As they refined their process, their group expanded to higher grades as their initial members asked them to continue the group when they outgrew it.

In addition to the information on decoding a book beginning with the protagonist/antagonist, identifying the
Jun 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
While I'm not sure I want to ruin the sheer joy of reading a book like "Charlotte's Web" with literary analysis, I do appreciate the tools that the authors have laid out for helping children to think more deeply about books. I would also argue that some of their book choices for 4th and 5th graders have some darker themes that I would personally save for middle school. "The Giver" and "The Call of the Wild" have some raw material that I would personally wait to discuss until a child is a bit ...more
Cyndy Defnall
Aug 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Great insight and help in discussing books with young children. The youngest grade that the author had discussion with was second graders. She gives great examples throughout the book about leading book discussion with grades 2-5 and even three examples book of different grade levels at the end. This is a great read for parents of public school and homeschooled children as well as public and private school teachers. She approaches book discussions and digging in deep to the literature as a ...more
Dec 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I tried to read this very quickly to pick up some ideas to use in our family, but not make too much of it all. I feel like our family is fairly inclined to read and interpret. I have huge issues with the notion that there is only one way to interpret a story (a deep seeded resentment from middle/high school). But there were decent suggestions in here that were worthwhile. And I appreciate the book recommendations. I learned about this book from a podcast on the Read Aloud Revival website, which ...more
The Beginning of Your Life Book Club
A delightful journey with the authors through their experience running a book club with elementary school children. Their keen insights into stories, their ability to engage their audience, and the clear and simply theory that each book is a mystery to be solved make this an enjoyable and empowering book to read!
Alanna Truong
Dec 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Well worth the read! This gave so much insight into so many elementary school novels, I am so excited to read/reread with my kids! It also gives a good model for staring your own parent/child book club, which I hope to be able take part in some time in the future. Meanwhile, have to get practicing in finding the hidden mystery in some books ...more
Stephanie O'keefe
Jan 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
I was skeptical at first of their formulaic approach to reading, but as I went along with the process I longed to be a part of the book club described by the Goldstones. I ultimately realized that just as you need to learn the rules of grammar before you can write, so also you must understand the rules of crafting a story before you can comprehend it.
Jul 25, 2018 rated it liked it
This was my second read of this book. And while it did inspire me and encourage me to begin a book club of my own for 5th and 6th grade homeschoolers, I did think the methods were a bit too rigid. We can discuss a book and still find deeper meaning without getting this technical.
Lena King
Aug 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
I stalled at chapter 1 and put it down for ages. Picked it up again last night and finished it in 2 sittings. An inspiring book, providing a great study tool to help you and your children get the most out of the books you read. Just get past chapter one and you'll find it worth the read.
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, 2019
This was great!
Loved all the examples in the book!!
A must have for anyone teaching children.
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Lawrence Goldstone is the author of fourteen books of both fiction and non-fiction. Six of those books were co-authored with his wife, Nancy, but they now write separately to save what is left of their dishes.
Goldstone's articles, reviews, and opinion pieces have appeared in, among other publications, the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, Hartford Courant, and