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Am I the only one not loving Deconstructing Penguins?


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For the sake of full disclosure I'm only halfway through, but the rest of the book looks to be more details on how to implement their method, so I think I've got the gist of it.

 

Maybe it's because I studied literature in college for five years and am also a writer, but it's been a challenge not to hurl the book out the window. And I had such high hopes, too, given the glowing praise I've seen for it.

 

So much of what they say is COMPLETELY WRONG. No, authors do not first come up with some kind of broad moral idea (like prejudice or friendship) and THEN think of a plot into which they can shoehorn it. No, not all books have some super-secret hidden moral you can discover if you label the protagonists and the setting and all that. Some books are just good stories. Some books don't have a moral beyond, "Life blows and everyone dies." A lot of the time, the books that are little more than vehicles for some kind of moral message tend to be awful, blunt things that use flat characters and a plodding plot to hit you over the head for three hundred pages. Even if a book does have an underlying message, there's a good chance the author didn't intentionally put it there. You can't "walk backward through the writing process and get in the author's mind," or however they phrased it.

 

DP seems to be the oral version of those worksheets they do in public schools where you have to label the characters and the plot and the setting, and nothing ruins a love of reading quicker than having to fill those out over and over. Yes, absolutely read books with your kids and discuss the heck out of them. But don't do it in some monotonous, formulaic way that sucks the joy and creativity out of every story. I had to do the advanced version of this in college, and I didn't enjoy reading a single book until about a year and a half after I finished. It's like the fiction version of the five paragraph essay that makes kids such godawful writers before they even graduate high school.

 

I know, it's not really a big deal, but I thought I was going to adore this book and come away with a bunch of fantastic new ideas. I'm really disappointed.

 

 

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You are right Mergath. The book is wrong. Nobody starts a novel with a moral in mind. And if they do, the book tends to be pretty rubbish as literature. 

 

Mind of the author, lol. Nobody needs to access the mind of the author except their therapist. And maybe their wife. The text is way more interesting anyway.

 

That's what I was thinking, lol. And I say this as a writer. I wouldn't want to get into the mind of a writer working on a book. I've been there. It's not generally a nice place. 

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I didn't like it, either. Not only is their assumption that the author had a pile of underlying themes in mind incorrect, but they believe that they as facilitators have the "right" answer and others should be led to that answer. No actual Socratic dialogue.

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I didn't see the point in Deconstructing Penguins either, other than maybe a leg up on some standardized tests (the MAP comes to mind as it is heavy in literary terms).

 

SWB seems to be the leading voice arguing that we should not destroy the (elementary, middle, and high school) child's love of reading to get a jump on college level literary analysis. Public school seems to be going the opposite way with close reading and extensive book packets (my daughter's 5th grade class had thirty page book packets on 150 page books!) analyzing every aspect of the book to death until only the most resilient student could come up for air afterward still loving the book. My son's high school is down to assigning three books per YEAR because they couldn't possibly go "in depth" with any more?!??!?!? I also appreciate MCT's method of encouraging his high school students (at the private school where he taught) to read an additional book every week or two and have a quick three to five minute discussion with him for credit. There really is something to be said for being "well read" and that won't happen if you read twelve books your entire high school career.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed Richard Adams introduction in the 2005 Scribner edition of Watership Down in which the author stated clearly that no matter what the literary critics imagined, Watership Down was a book about bunnies written for his children to entertain them on a long car ride and not an allegory or a parable.

 

I am totally in the camp that reading more books is more illuminating (one can make their own comparisons throughout a broad range of literature) than reading just a few novels for which you have the "time" . Nothing wrong with learning the literary analysis terms and applying them now and again or doing one close reading, but dissecting every book is a recipe to make reading into drudgery, especially at the younger ages.

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I didn't see the point in Deconstructing Penguins either, other than maybe a leg up on some standardized tests (the MAP comes to mind as it is heavy in literary terms).

 

SWB seems to be the leading voice arguing that we should not destroy the (elementary, middle, and high school) child's love of reading to get a jump on college level literary analysis. Public school seems to be going the opposite way with close reading and extensive book packets (my daughter's 5th grade class had thirty page book packets on 150 page books!) analyzing every aspect of the book to death until only the most resilient student could come up for air afterward still loving the book. My son's high school is down to assigning three books per YEAR because they couldn't possibly go "in depth" with any more?!??!?!? I also appreciate MCT's method of encouraging his high school students (at the private school where he taught) to read an additional book every week or two and have a quick three to five minute discussion with him for credit. There really is something to be said for being "well read" and that won't happen if you read twelve books your entire high school career.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed Richard Adams introduction in the 2005 Scribner edition of Watership Down in which the author stated clearly that no matter what the literary critics imagined, Watership Down was a book about bunnies written for his children to entertain them on a long car ride and not an allegory or a parable.

 

I am totally in the camp that reading more books is more illuminating (one can make their own comparisons throughout a broad range of literature) than reading just a few novels for which you have the "time" . Nothing wrong with learning the literary analysis terms and applying them now and again or doing one close reading, but dissecting every book is a recipe to make reading into drudgery, especially at the younger ages.

 

:iagree:  I follow a lot of education stuff on pinterest, FB, etc. and the close reading info makes me want to cry, it looks so awful. The one I've seen recently that completely sums up this approach to LA is a list of "Steps to Close Reading," and step one says: Read the text once for pleasure (if time allows). 

 

If time allows? No wonder so many kids hate reading. And then they have to number the paragraphs and circle and annotate and make notes in the margins. I've seen websites that recommend giving elementary kids highlighters and pens and post-it notes to properly read something. I mean, FFS, you'd think they were studying a medical school textbook or something. I never had to do all that as a kid. We read a story and if the teacher was feeling especially ambitious we answered some questions at the end. 

 

Also, I took more than a few creative writing classes in college, and the amount of crap the average person can read into a story never ceases to amaze me. Which is fine, as long as the reader understands that they're projecting most of it onto the work themselves. The idea that every book is a mystery filled with clues left by the author to some deep philosophical meaning is ridiculous. 

 

ETA: Here, this is the one. If I had to do all this every time I read something as a kid I would have gone insane. Even if they're only having them do it with non-fiction, how could anyone possibly ever enjoy learning like this?

Edited by Mergath
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ETA: Here, this is the one. If I had to do all this every time I read something as a kid I would have gone insane. Even if they're only having them do it with non-fiction, how could anyone possibly ever enjoy learning like this?

 

That one actually looks like it's more about how to read non-fiction (that is, a textbook).  At least I hope, with every fiber of my being, that it is about non-fiction and not about fiction.  Though how the "once for pleasure" part fits in I don't know.  

 

I am firmly in the "let 'em mostly just read" camp.

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That one actually looks like it's more about how to read non-fiction (that is, a textbook).  At least I hope, with every fiber of my being, that it is about non-fiction and not about fiction.  Though how the "once for pleasure" part fits in I don't know.  

 

I am firmly in the "let 'em mostly just read" camp.

 

Even with non-fiction though, it sounds like a nightmare. I read tons of non-fiction articles (pop science is my favorite) but if I had to go through that every time I wanted to read an article or an essay to learn something new, I wouldn't touch a magazine or a newspaper with a ten foot pole. Dd inhales non-fiction too, and she manages to learn all sorts of new stuff from it without numbering and underlining and margin notes and god knows what else. 

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I thought I would like it, too. I'm still fully in the SWB lit analysis camp. I'd rather they enjoy the book, than pick it apart. Chances are that books they really really love, they'll come back to and get new meaning out of them. I know I am as I reread my childhood favorites. 

 

I read it a few years ago, when people here were talking about it. Meh. I didn't finish reading it, and we've never actually used it at all. I agree with Plum Crazy and SWB -- Let them enjoy the books.

 

We do learn the vocabulary of literary analysis (forms, elements), but just the vocabulary.

 

Literary Forms

  • Fiction or Nonfiction
  • Genre (definition)
  • Forms of Fiction
    • Realistic Fiction
    • Historical Fiction
    • Action & Adventure
    • Fantasy
    • Science Fiction
    • Mystery
    • Western
    • Romance
  • Novels & Short Stories
  • Myths & Fables
  • Parable
  • Biographies & Autobiographies
  • Diaries & Histories
  • Essays & Speeches
  • Poetry or Prose
  • Types of Poetry
    • Ballads
    • Quatrain
    • Cinquains
    • Couplets
    • Free Verse
    • Limericks
    • Haiku
  • Dramatic Literature

 

Literary Elements

  • Setting
  • Plot
  • Characterization
  • Point of View
  • Narrator
  • Conflict
  • Theme
  • Moral
  • Symbolism
  • Imagery
  • Dialogue
  • Dialect
  • Mood
  • Tone
  • Allusion
  • Denotation & Connotation
  • Foreshadowing
  • Suspense
  • Surprise Ending
  • Flashback
  • Personification
  • Anthropomorphism
  • Hyperbole
  • Satire
  • Parody
  • Farce
  • Irony
  • Rhetorical Question
  • Figures of Speech
  • Idiom
  • Pun
  • Malapropism
  • Simile
  • Metaphor
  • Oxymoron & Paradox
  • Alliteration
  • Assonance & Consonance
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Parallelism
  • Repetition & Refrain
  • Rhyme
  • Rhythm

Not all at once, of course. ;)

 

Edited to add:

 

I have this list (and the definitions) in my teacher binder for Literature & Language. What happens with these terms is very simple -- every so often, without any planning, I pull one or two terms from the list that we haven't discussed yet. For instance, there might be a great example of foreshadowing and suspense in something we are reading, so we talk about those terms and take a look at the foreshadowing in the story we're reading. I write the words on the white board, the girls write the terms (and their own definitions) in their L & L binders, and we move to the sofa to read more of the actual book. The "term talk" takes ten minutes, maybe? (alliteration) ;)

 

I think it's worth adding that in a few times here and there. My goal is that by high school they will be familiar with some of the basic terms used to discuss literature. When we talk about books here at home, we are able to communicate more clearly and succinctly about plot, setting, characterization, point of view, and so on, because we have a basic "Book Club" vocabulary. IMO, that is a part (albeit, a small part) of what it means to be literate about literature, just like knowing basic terms like "photosynthesis" and "atomic number" are part of what it means to be scientifically literate.

 

Besides, it's fun spelling O-N-O-M-A-T-O-P-O-E-I-A. ;)

Edited by Sahamamama
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Mergath,

 

"Talk back to the 'chunks'" Seriously? The kids aren't rolling in the aisles when they read this? Making smart aleck comments in their margins?

 

I am beginning to believe that only writers should teach literature. I can't help but think that any children's book author worth her or his salt would snatch his book right out of a close reading teacher's hands and smack them on the head with it. Then hand it back to the kids and say, "Please, throw those sticky notes and highlighters in the trash, then open the book and enjoy the story I wrote for you."

 

Oh goodness gracious! It says not to read more than three paragraphs at a time!

 

 

Edited by Kalmia
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I didn't see the point in Deconstructing Penguins either, other than maybe a leg up on some standardized tests (the MAP comes to mind as it is heavy in literary terms).

 

SWB seems to be the leading voice arguing that we should not destroy the (elementary, middle, and high school) child's love of reading to get a jump on college level literary analysis. Public school seems to be going the opposite way with close reading and extensive book packets (my daughter's 5th grade class had thirty page book packets on 150 page books!) analyzing every aspect of the book to death until only the most resilient student could come up for air afterward still loving the book. My son's high school is down to assigning three books per YEAR because they couldn't possibly go "in depth" with any more?!??!?!? I also appreciate MCT's method of encouraging his high school students (at the private school where he taught) to read an additional book every week or two and have a quick three to five minute discussion with him for credit. There really is something to be said for being "well read" and that won't happen if you read twelve books your entire high school career.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed Richard Adams introduction in the 2005 Scribner edition of Watership Down in which the author stated clearly that no matter what the literary critics imagined, Watership Down was a book about bunnies written for his children to entertain them on a long car ride and not an allegory or a parable.

 

I am totally in the camp that reading more books is more illuminating (one can make their own comparisons throughout a broad range of literature) than reading just a few novels for which you have the "time" . Nothing wrong with learning the literary analysis terms and applying them now and again or doing one close reading, but dissecting every book is a recipe to make reading into drudgery, especially at the younger ages.

 

Kalmia, I've heard of this trend. Awful, just awful. IMO, it's an excuse to not teach. Instead, let's just waste a student's time by having endless class discussions, worksheets, graphic organizers, and group projects about a book.

 

I was an avid, eager, self-motivated reader in high school, and that approach would have killed even my love of reading. Just killed. Well, maybe not reading, per se, but certainly English class. :ack2: I'm so glad my English teachers didn't do this back then. Sure, we read books and discussed them, but not to death.

 

I honestly believe that students in school need to rebel against the horrific wasting of their time. I was in high school over 30 years ago, but even I remember thinking, "This is such a waste of my time." And I thought to myself each morning, as I passed the school library, "Why do they have that here? No one even uses it! If only they'd let me spend the day in there, unhindered, I might actually learn something." I can't imagine what it must feel like for a student in today's schools!

 

I wonder why teachers don't rebel, too? Can they really enjoy "teaching" literature this way?

 

With my three girls, we've endeavored to simply enjoy reading aloud good books together. Each of us has our own copy of the book we're reading. We all snuggle up and I read the book aloud. We do occasionally use an audiobook if there are dialects that might be difficult to reproduce (e.g., The Water Horse, The Secret Garden), or if my throat is not cooperating. When we're done reading the book, each girl gets to keep her copy. They've built up nice personal libraries this way.

 

Instead of spending time with literary analysis workbooks or book guides (we did a few, but then let them go), we talk about the book. We give ourselves a little time in between books, to absorb that book's world. To think about it, to kind of talk about the story "along the way." This has created a book culture in our home that I think must be sorely lacking in most schools today. My girls incorporate the stories into their art, creative writing, play times, even into their dreams. ;) "Mommy, last night I had a dream that I was Lucy, and I went into the wardrobe and came out into Narnia."

 

During the week or so in between chapter books, we do Poetry Tea or Cocoa Classics (or Cafe Classics, if I feel like I can handle my children being caffeinated). We drink tea, perhaps learn a new literary term related to poetry (onomatopoeia, anyone?), and take turns sharing our favorite poems from a large stash of poetry books. Or, we drink cocoa or coffee, and read children's classic short stories. Good times.

 

And then, of course, we have shelves full of books, that they can choose for their ample free time. Not assigned, not dissected.

 

Edited by Sahamamama
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I guess I didn't read it the same way, but my kids are way past the age the book was talking about now.

 

What I got out of the book was that you didn't have to cover a long list of literary analysis terms with young children. They could notice and make insights with just thinking about the basics: character, setting, conflict, and what's the point of view? For an engineer, it made elementary homeschool English less intimidating.

 

I vaguely remember hating their discussion of Animal Farm, but I no longer remember why.

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Instead of spending time with literary analysis workbooks or book guides (we did a few, but then let them go), we talk about the book. We give ourselves a little time in between books, to absorb that book's world. To think about it, to kind of talk about the story "along the way." This has created a book culture in our home that I think must be sorely lacking in most schools today. My girls incorporate the stories into their art, creative writing, play times, even into their dreams. ;) "Mommy, last night I had a dream that I was Lucy, and I went into the wardrobe and came out into Narnia."

 

I love to take a few days off between books to savor in this way too. But I had to comment on your dd's dream. When my dd got her wisdom teeth out (just after she turned 17), when she was coming out of anesthesia, she was so disoriented--and she really wanted the nurse to open the cabinet because it looked so much like the wardrobe! She wanted to go to Narnia! 

 

I liked aspects of Penguins because it made me see that discussions with kids of any age were possible, but I'd agree that some of the suggestions seemed overdone and more than I would want or enjoy. I think it was the book club examples early in the book that I found most inspiring--I liked the things that the children thought of, and wished at times I could pull out more of what my kids were thinking. 

 

I never did find a "lit analysis" course that I really liked. (And I found the amount of simple comprehension questions contained in "supposed" lit-analysis resources particularly aggravating--or questions that wanted to look at little nit-picky things.) I agree that books should simply be enjoyed--and that if there is any lit. analysis that goes on, it should only be to enhance that enjoyment, not to dissect a book to death. My dream lit. resource would highlight the author's artistry and give me something worthy of discussing, if a parent/teacher wanted to, for each book. Highlight one author's use of great metaphors. Another's use of vivid description. Another that shows good use of foreshadowing, and yet another that may have hidden a hidden meaning in the title...and so on. Something I can discuss in a day or two with my child--or not. I don't want long, drawn-out, chapter by chapter analysis--but I sometimes wanted something that would allow me to sit and savor the book another day, and drink it in more deeply. Like when I discovered why Sing Down the Moon was titled as it was. Or when I read Bulla's Pocahontas book and the ending echoed the beginning imagery and haunted me for days. (I couldn't go on to another book--I HAD to sit with that one when it was done). Or how I wanted to savor The Journeyman's use of metaphor and vivid description, and how the teaching he received also inspired me. 

 

I really like children's fiction and found many good books had profound thoughts for adults as well. 

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I liked the book. It isn't the be all, end all... nothing is -- but it was fun and an interesting approach for young kids... The authors do come across as if they think it's the ONLY way, which makes a good-selling book but not a very accurate book. I can imagine people taking it too seriously, at least until the first time their kid refuses to get the "right" interpretation (as in the Animal farm example mentioned above).

 

A lot of reading with very little analysis + a little reading with a lot of analysis = works for us. 
 

Regarding Watership Down, hasn't Adams said he was influenced by Campbell? (The Hero with a Thousand Faces) I think Campbell may even be quoted in it. To me it clearly reads like an epic. I think Star Wars also follows Campbell (might be wrong on this one, it could be someone who did something similar analysis of myths...) hence the very, very similar structure with other stories.

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I slogged through the second half because I hate DNFing a book, and god, it just gets worse. I mean, heaven forbid a second grader reads a book that isn't something about which they can have "insights about character, plot, and even the author's motives." The Goldstones act like if you let your kids read books for fun, they'll secretly feel like failures and hate themselves. And don't even get me started on their idea that every book has one secret, author-implanted message at its core and all other interpretations and ideas are wrong, wrong, wrong. They even tell you to shut down any questions or answers that could lead to "dead ends or superficial observations... It must be like a treasure hunt where the discovery of each clue is a source of excitement, a marker that you are on the right path to the solution, and a spur to search for the next clue." NO. JUST NO. The "right path to the solution"? Ugh.

 

And to add insult to injury, they give away the ending of every book they discuss.

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I vaguely remember hating their discussion of Animal Farm, but I no longer remember why.

 

It bugged me because they were like, let's hurry up and dispense with all that Russian Revolution crap so we can get to what we've decided Animal Farm is REALLY about.

 

It's like they think they're the first people to ever come up with an interpretation of a book.

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I thoroughly enjoyed Richard Adams introduction in the 2005 Scribner edition of Watership Down in which the author stated clearly that no matter what the literary critics imagined, Watership Down was a book about bunnies written for his children to entertain them on a long car ride and not an allegory or a parable.

 

 

 

Thank you for this.  I shy away from fiction, especially the classics, because I don't feel qualified to read them.  I just want to either learn something (non fiction) or have fun (science fiction).  

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Thank you for this.  I shy away from fiction, especially the classics, because I don't feel qualified to read them.  I just want to either learn something (non fiction) or have fun (science fiction).  

 

If you can read the books (i.e., decode the words, understand the literal meaning of the text, bring some General Background Knowledge* into the book), then you are qualified to read the books (i.e., enjoy them or dislike them, form your own opinions about them, throw them at walls, treasure them forever, discuss them with others, etc.). You are qualified to form your own relationship with a book in private -- to finish it or not finish it; to reread it or never think about it again; to read slowly or quickly; to obsess or to read absentmindedly; to love or loathe a book's characters; to heartily recommend it or to say, "That was the worst thing I ever read!" If you're not in school anymore, you can read the way you want to! :)

 

* By G.B.K., I mean this:

 

Say you're reading In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, you might call upon your G.B.K. of post-WW II America, immigration, Chinese culture, stickball, roller skates, Brooklyn, the first attempts to integrate American baseball, baseball itself, Jackie Robinson, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Shirley Temple. ;) But even if you "don't know much" about any of these things, you are still, IMO, qualified to read the book!

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I think Adams was specifying in his "new" introduction, not that he wasn't influenced by anyone, but that Watership Down wasn't a thinly veiled political statement or assessment of religion. Scholars and readers have read in their own interpretations that it is about Nazism, Rome, democracy religion, etc. Adams states: "Watership Down is an adventure story, no more than that: rather a swashbuckling crude one to boot. There are virtuous rabbits and bad rabbits: if that's allegory, Bonanza is an allegory."

 

 

Quote obviously didn't work right: Here is the quote I am responding to:

 

Regarding Watership Down, hasn't Adams said he was influenced by Campbell? (The Hero with a Thousand Faces) I think Campbell may even be quoted in it. To me it clearly reads like an epic. I think Star Wars also follows Campbell (might be wrong on this one, it could be someone who did something similar analysis of myths...) hence the very, very similar structure with other stories.

 

Edited by Kalmia
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It would be less disingenuous if in literary analysis we just respectfully said (except in the cases when the author made it clear elsewhere) that we don't know exactly what the author had in mind here, but when we read her/his book, we are reminded of this or that or the other thing. Keep it clear that literary analysis is more about the reader's thinking process than the author's.

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I slogged through the second half because I hate DNFing a book, and god, it just gets worse. I mean, heaven forbid a second grader reads a book that isn't something about which they can have "insights about character, plot, and even the author's motives." The Goldstones act like if you let your kids read books for fun, they'll secretly feel like failures and hate themselves. And don't even get me started on their idea that every book has one secret, author-implanted message at its core and all other interpretations and ideas are wrong, wrong, wrong. They even tell you to shut down any questions or answers that could lead to "dead ends or superficial observations... It must be like a treasure hunt where the discovery of each clue is a source of excitement, a marker that you are on the right path to the solution, and a spur to search for the next clue." NO. JUST NO. The "right path to the solution"? Ugh.

 

And to add insult to injury, they give away the ending of every book they discuss.

I was going to post to warn you that it only gets worse but you beat me to it...

 

Thank you for this thread. I feel so alone in my dislike of this book. It is recommended so often, but I just hate the "code breaker" approach. Ugh.

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I really disliked it also. I came away also feeling like maybe I was misunderstanding some of the books we were reading since the way we had discussed them at home wasn't the way the authors described it. I do feel like often book critiques misunderstand or read to deeply into the authors intent.

 I recently read How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and I liked it so much more. It really is geared towards the adults that were reading The Great Books but I took away quite a few notes from it and I do feel it will be helpful in our house. One of the things he said was that the only book you can learn from is one that is over your head. I loved that and it encouraged me to continue in my self education. Another take away from the book: Liberal arts entails taking a position on ideas because "to regard anyone except yourself as responsible for your judgement is to be a slave and not a free man". It doesn't cover literal devices or anything to that effect it is more just advice on how to understand the problems presented in a book and take your own stance on them. 

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If you can read the books (i.e., decode the words, understand the literal meaning of the text, bring some General Background Knowledge* into the book), then you are qualified to read the books (i.e., enjoy them or dislike them, form your own opinions about them, throw them at walls, treasure them forever, discuss them with others, etc.). You are qualified to form your own relationship with a book in private -- to finish it or not finish it; to reread it or never think about it again; to read slowly or quickly; to obsess or to read absentmindedly; to love or loathe a book's characters; to heartily recommend it or to say, "That was the worst thing I ever read!" If you're not in school anymore, you can read the way you want to! :)

 

* By G.B.K., I mean this:

 

Say you're reading In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, you might call upon your G.B.K. of post-WW II America, immigration, Chinese culture, stickball, roller skates, Brooklyn, the first attempts to integrate American baseball, baseball itself, Jackie Robinson, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Shirley Temple. ;) But even if you "don't know much" about any of these things, you are still, IMO, qualified to read the book!

 

Yeah, and when I read DP, there was some part that did not reassure me at all.  I think it was the analysis of Animal Farm, where the big secret is that the horses were the intelligentsia, and they didn't do anything to stop the dictatorship when they had the chance.  I just felt like you need a translation of the book just to read the book.  But then, if you come away thinking Animal Farm is a book about animals, aren't you missing the whole point of the novel?  But does anyone ever read AF and spontaneously think, "Ah yes, this represents the political situation in Russia at the time..." or some such.  

 

Having said that, it's quite easy to look things up on Wikipedia to get some GBK, as you aptly call it.   

 

(Go easy on me here.  I'm really a math/science type.  Literature is just not my forte.)

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Yeah, and when I read DP, there was some part that did not reassure me at all.  I think it was the analysis of Animal Farm, where the big secret is that the horses were the intelligentsia, and they didn't do anything to stop the dictatorship when they had the chance.  I just felt like you need a translation of the book just to read the book.  But then, if you come away thinking Animal Farm is a book about animals, aren't you missing the whole point of the novel?  But does anyone ever read AF and spontaneously think, "Ah yes, this represents the political situation in Russia at the time..." or some such.  

 

Having said that, it's quite easy to look things up on Wikipedia to get some GBK, as you aptly call it.   

 

(Go easy on me here.  I'm really a math/science type.  Literature is just not my forte.)

 

You are under no obligation to wring everything possible out of a novel.

 

The books aren't the boss of you! The authors aren't the boss of you! 

 

And anyway, most classics are published with long introductions that described the life and times, which you can read if you care. (Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't.)

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Thank you for this. I shy away from fiction, especially the classics, because I don't feel qualified to read them. I just want to either learn something (non fiction) or have fun (science fiction).

I have been pleasantly surprised by how accessible and enjoyable many classics are. I would encourage you to jump in and try one that sounds interesting to you.

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So where dies one turn to learn how to discuss books with their kids? This (DP, I mean) was on my list, along with the previously mentioned "How to Read a Book," and now I'm not interested in DP. What are your favorite resources for ideas? Reading together comes quite naturally, and narration is fairly simple with my little guys, but I'm at a loss in guiding more meaningful conversation as they get older and the books get more complex.

 

*Let me know if this question would be more appropriate in its own thread.*

 

Well, don't give up on DP just because there's a (convincing!) contingent of people who did not like it. Give it a try. I actually walked away with a different point of view of what the authors were trying to suggest and my kids (who are still quite young!) and I love talking about books like this.I did appreciate reading the comments of those who were turned off by the book, though.

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I hated DP. I didn't get past the first couple chapters.

 

I found the way they wrote about the people in their book club to be so incredibly condescending. It left a really bad taste in my mouth.

 

 

I read How to Read Literature Like a Professor: For Kids, aloud to the kids this year and we all really enjoyed it. It's a very basic intro to literary elements and we were familiar with most of the books he used as examples.

 

 

DD will be in 7th grade this year and I am looking for something to give me more guidance on doing book discussions with her. I'm looking at Mosdos.

Or, I might try a Bravewriter Book Club (probably Arrow).

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So where dies one turn to learn how to discuss books with their kids? This (DP, I mean) was on my list, along with the previously mentioned "How to Read a Book," and now I'm not interested in DP. What are your favorite resources for ideas? Reading together comes quite naturally, and narration is fairly simple with my little guys, but I'm at a loss in guiding more meaningful conversation as they get older and the books get more complex.

 

*Let me know if this question would be more appropriate in its own thread.*

 

For the younger elementary crowd, I think just asking open-ended questions is enough. Not necessarily reading comprehension questions, but things like, "Why do you think this character did what they did?" and "What would you have done in that situation?" and the ever popular, "Who was your favorite character in this book and why?" My dd is finishing up second grade so obviously I don't have years of experience teaching lit as a hs mom, but the discussions we have seem to go much better when I answer the questions, too. Sometimes dd will disagree with me and we have fantastic arguments about some aspect of a book. And at this age, that's all you need to do. Get them hearing/reading books, and get them thinking about books. If you're at a loss, you can always google "discussion questions for [book title]."

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I slogged through the second half because I hate DNFing a book, and god, it just gets worse. I mean, heaven forbid a second grader reads a book that isn't something about which they can have "insights about character, plot, and even the author's motives." The Goldstones act like if you let your kids read books for fun, they'll secretly feel like failures and hate themselves. And don't even get me started on their idea that every book has one secret, author-implanted message at its core and all other interpretations and ideas are wrong, wrong, wrong. They even tell you to shut down any questions or answers that could lead to "dead ends or superficial observations... It must be like a treasure hunt where the discovery of each clue is a source of excitement, a marker that you are on the right path to the solution, and a spur to search for the next clue." NO. JUST NO. The "right path to the solution"? Ugh.

 

And to add insult to injury, they give away the ending of every book they discuss.

Thank you for posting your reactions.  I can strike this one right off my list.  My own background is in literature and philosophy---there's so much wrong with what I see available on the market in these areas.  I really think my family just needs to read good books and talk about them.

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For the younger elementary crowd, I think just asking open-ended questions is enough. Not necessarily reading comprehension questions, but things like, "Why do you think this character did what they did?" and "What would you have done in that situation?" and the ever popular, "Who was your favorite character in this book and why?" My dd is finishing up second grade so obviously I don't have years of experience teaching lit as a hs mom, but the discussions we have seem to go much better when I answer the questions, too. Sometimes dd will disagree with me and we have fantastic arguments about some aspect of a book. And at this age, that's all you need to do. Get them hearing/reading books, and get them thinking about books. If you're at a loss, you can always google "discussion questions for [book title]."

 

Yep, that's what I do. I was a literature major, but I still find that I often have trouble coming up with good, open-ended questions. (And sometimes, frankly, I just haven't read the book -- or more likely, it's been YEARS -- so I need a cheat sheet.) There's an amazing number of free resources out there just floating around on the web. Many publishers put out literary guides for their books. I pick out the questions most likely to make the student think and chuck the rest. Those guides often also reference various literary devices the author employs, and I note them so I can point them out as we get to them. That's about the extent of our taking the book apart.

 

The suggestion above that some high schools are down to THREE BOOKS per year astounds me!! DD (just finished 5th) reads 10-12 assigned novels per year. (That's on top of her history reading, which can be fiction or non-fiction but is tied to whatever era we're studying, and on top of her free reading, which I don't regulate at all.) We don't discuss everything she reads; half to two-thirds of her assigned reading is done purely for the pleasure of interacting with a good book. I agree with those who have said, just let them read!!

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For the younger elementary crowd, I think just asking open-ended questions is enough. Not necessarily reading comprehension questions, but things like, "Why do you think this character did what they did?" and "What would you have done in that situation?" and the ever popular, "Who was your favorite character in this book and why?" My dd is finishing up second grade so obviously I don't have years of experience teaching lit as a hs mom, but the discussions we have seem to go much better when I answer the questions, too. Sometimes dd will disagree with me and we have fantastic arguments about some aspect of a book. And at this age, that's all you need to do. Get them hearing/reading books, and get them thinking about books. If you're at a loss, you can always google "discussion questions for [book title]."

 

My DS enjoyed using the questions in Suppose The Wolf Were An Octopus: Guides to Creative Questioning this year (Royal Fireworks Press).  Read the book, small discussion comparing book through his eyes vs. through mine, done.  No drawn out analysis.  No written output.  Just reading to read.  Did you enjoy the book?  Why or Why not.  Then the questions.

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Now that I think about it I think the author was one I heard on Read Aloud Revival podcast and didn't like.  I got the impression that he was adamant that there were right answers and the reader's opinion/feelings were unimportant.  I listen to the podcasts while housecleaning and doing chores so I was kind of thinking maybe I'd just not been paying close enough attention but after reading this post I'm sure I heard it right! 

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My DS enjoyed using the questions in Suppose The Wolf Were An Octopus: Guides to Creative Questioning this year (Royal Fireworks Press).  Read the book, small discussion comparing book through his eyes vs. through mine, done.  No drawn out analysis.  No written output.  Just reading to read.  Did you enjoy the book?  Why or Why not.  Then the questions.

 

 

Oooh, I'm intrigued! And I can even get the 3-4 volume through ILL. Perfect.  :thumbup: Thanks for the recommendation.

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But does anyone ever read AF and spontaneously think, "Ah yes, this represents the political situation in Russia at the time..." or some such.  

 

 

Actually, yes, my teens did recognize the relationship between Animal Farm and communism--but in fairness, I did also schedule the book in a year when they were learning about that time period in history--so communism was "on the brain" so to speak. 

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Besides, it's fun spelling O-N-O-M-A-T-O-P-O-E-I-A. ;)

 

I have a dear friend whose adolescent nickname was Fizz. The vast majority of people now call him by his given name, but I cling to calling him Fizz (and he doesn't mind).

 

When my kids were 8 or 9 and learned the word onomatopoeia, my son got very excited and yelled, "FIZZ is an onomatopoeia!" He called Fizz up to inform him of this. I now sometimes introduce him as, "This is Fizz. He's an onomatopoeia."  :laugh:

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I am so thankful for this thread. I have had it on my wish list for ages and was going to order soon based on all the recommendations in the forum however I was never convinced the book was for me, I was ordering it based on recommendations and against my own judgement. Book officially removed from wish list, that just saved me some money and space on the book shelf :001_smile:

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Interesting thread. I just borrowed it from the library this week, and am only through the first 30 pages or so. I am motivated to read more of it.

 

I see the point that hashing everything to death isn't good. At the same time, I was thinking about using light discussion to replace answering tedious worksheets and answering comprehension questions. Comparatively, discussing things for a minute or two seems a lot less onerous. I was hoping DP would help teach me how to have more meaningful discussions about it.

 

On the close reading thing, it is like they tried to figure out how to explain "reading comprehension" to kids who weren't getting it, and this is what they came up with. It seems arduous, torturous, etc. But it may be that it is useful for those who really aren't getting it. And if they aren't getting it, they probably wouldn't be enjoying it for fun, either, I suppose.

 

But I do agree with you about not everything having a deep meaning, insane amounts of symbolism and references, etc. That's something I thought about and struggled with in HS and University literature classes. Am I a failure of a reader if I would never have gotten all this symbolism by myself? Is the role of the teacher to simply point out the symbolism and references that the students wouldn't have seen? I wrote this insanely long paper on Macbeth in like 10th or 11th grade and it felt like in finding all these examples of symbolism I was just making crap up. Half the time, that is what I think the academic papers are doing too. As a teacher, do you view things as having only one "right" interpretation, or with evidence can you believe an alternate explanation (or no explanation). How does your position change depending on if the author is alive and actually comments, etc. I am rambling I know. Once I get going in this vein, I am just troubled by the purpose of the classics.

 

 

 

 

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I first heard about this book here on WTM. Eventually, I saw it mentioned enough that I request it from the library. Then I read through this thread and thought "I should cancel that request."

I picked it up yesterday. After reading the first 9 (yes, 9!) pages, I knew it wouldn't get better. It is absolutely okay to just read a book for pleasure and never think about any deeper meaning. Not every author has a deeper meaning in mind while writing their book. 

Now, I do think it's good to know/recognize literary terms and things. But you don't have to analyze every book to death to do that.

I skimmed through the rest (very quickly) and I was right. It didn't get better. It's just more analyzing books to death. (Someone, feel free to correct me. I'd love to find a section with new ideas/good ideas.)

Anyway, I was excited about it originally because I've seen it mentioned here. But, alas, this one isn't a winner for me.

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I'll be weird and say I enjoyed reading the book.  I got it from the library and did not feel the need to buy it for my own shelves, but it did make me think, and that is always good.

 

Maybe I'm not super sophisticated, but I don't get that deep when I read!  Is that why I can't understand Camus' The Stranger?  Are there layers of meaning that I'm just not in the habit of noticing?  (Also, anyone who tells me they like Camus is never going to babysit my kids.)

 

We talk about books all the time, though.  This morning, my 8yo DD asked about a headline on a gossip magazine at the grocery store.  I told her that was a gossip paper, and she said, "Oh, like (name I can't remember, muck-raker) from Harry Potter."  Yep.  Like that.  We've also talked about how Harry needed Ron and Hermione in order to grow into a hero, and could not have done it alone. 

 

Maybe our discussions will become more sophisticated as Dd gets older. 

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I read it a few years ago, when people here were talking about it. Meh. I didn't finish reading it, and we've never actually used it at all. I agree with Plum Crazy and SWB -- Let them enjoy the books.

 

We do learn the vocabulary of literary analysis (forms, elements), but just the vocabulary.

 

Literary Forms

  • Fiction or Nonfiction
  • Genre (definition)
  • Forms of Fiction
    • Realistic Fiction
    • Historical Fiction
    • Action & Adventure
    • Fantasy
    • Science Fiction
    • Mystery
    • Western
    • Romance
  • Novels & Short Stories
  • Myths & Fables
  • Parable
  • Biographies & Autobiographies
  • Diaries & Histories
  • Essays & Speeches
  • Poetry or Prose
  • Types of Poetry
    • Ballads
    • Quatrain
    • Cinquains
    • Couplets
    • Free Verse
    • Limericks
    • Haiku
  • Dramatic Literature

 

Literary Elements

  • Setting
  • Plot
  • Characterization
  • Point of View
  • Narrator
  • Conflict
  • Theme
  • Moral
  • Symbolism
  • Imagery
  • Dialogue
  • Dialect
  • Mood
  • Tone
  • Allusion
  • Denotation & Connotation
  • Foreshadowing
  • Suspense
  • Surprise Ending
  • Flashback
  • Personification
  • Anthropomorphism
  • Hyperbole
  • Satire
  • Parody
  • Farce
  • Irony
  • Rhetorical Question
  • Figures of Speech
  • Idiom
  • Pun
  • Malapropism
  • Simile
  • Metaphor
  • Oxymoron & Paradox
  • Alliteration
  • Assonance & Consonance
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Parallelism
  • Repetition & Refrain
  • Rhyme
  • Rhythm

Not all at once, of course. ;)

 

Edited to add:

 

I have this list (and the definitions) in my teacher binder for Literature & Language. What happens with these terms is very simple -- every so often, without any planning, I pull one or two terms from the list that we haven't discussed yet. For instance, there might be a great example of foreshadowing and suspense in something we are reading, so we talk about those terms and take a look at the foreshadowing in the story we're reading. I write the words on the white board, the girls write the terms (and their own definitions) in their L & L binders, and we move to the sofa to read more of the actual book. The "term talk" takes ten minutes, maybe? (alliteration) ;)

 

I think it's worth adding that in a few times here and there. My goal is that by high school they will be familiar with some of the basic terms used to discuss literature. When we talk about books here at home, we are able to communicate more clearly and succinctly about plot, setting, characterization, point of view, and so on, because we have a basic "Book Club" vocabulary. IMO, that is a part (albeit, a small part) of what it means to be literate about literature, just like knowing basic terms like "photosynthesis" and "atomic number" are part of what it means to be scientifically literate.

 

Besides, it's fun spelling O-N-O-M-A-T-O-P-O-E-I-A. ;)

This is a truly wonderful post.  I've saved it.  Thank you.

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