Deconstructing Penguins and Life

You know how you look forward to something for forever, then it flies by, and weeks roll by afterwards? That's where we are. We so anticipated our sort-of-impromptu-booked cruise, then it was here, and we spent a week sleeping, eating, reading and soaking up sun. Then we were back home, and life began to roll again.

That's the whole point, though, isn't it? We go away so we can come back home again.  Hopefully we come back with a renewed vigor for all the things that life consists of.

That renewed vigor led me to tackle a big ole book, Crime and Punishment, written forever ago with way too many Russian names, but I actually enjoyed it overall. Now I've picked up The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, another classic I somehow never read, but only 12 chapters versus the 41 that C&P boasted.

In the middle of those two, I grabbed another book - Deconstructing Penguins. The title comes from the book, Mr. Popper's Penguins, which I only read a few weeks ago, then I watched the movie with Jim Carrey, so if anyone out there is worried that I don't get enough variety in my reading or entertainment life, rest assured I do.

My daughter warned me I might not be interested in reading Deconstructing Penguins. It is, after all about teaching children to read, and my children are all grown readers, with children of their own.

It ended up fascinating me because it's about teaching children to really read, not as in learning to sound out the letters, and come up with words, but rather to read books and know what they are about. Read books and start thinking about life and how it affects them and the world all around them. It's all about figuring out protagonist, antagonist, plot, character, setting, etc through book clubs for elementary and middle school aged children, the thought of which never occurred to me. As dry as it might sound, it was actually really interesting, and mostly made me realize how little I know about really, really reading. Reading as in Deconstructing Penguins. Not just reading Crime and Punishment, but rather reading it to understand what the author was really trying to say.

I've kept a journal since the 1990's of almost every book I've read, and going back over the list I realized I've read very little that is substantial, or even memorable. The majority of my reads have been easy entertainment. Not that there's anything wrong with being entertained by reading, I'm all for that. I read three pretty much mindless books on our cruise because it was the perfect time for that very thing.

Reading Deconstructing Penguins made me realize children need to be taught, and can be taught, to really read in their early elementary years, not so they will understand the deeper meaning of books, but rather so that they'll start really thinking for themselves, pondering life in all its facets, as they are growing up.

A worthy quote from the book really struck me:
'Kids' self-esteem comes from the same source as adults' self-esteem: taking on something that seems hard at first and then doing better at it than you ever thought possible. Kids are hip: they know when they're being dumbed down, and no child develops genuine self-esteem from being praised for something he or she didn't work at." 
So I'm not knocking all those Nancy Drew reads; I personally read almost every single one, and it developed a love of reading in me. That type of reading was a place for my soul to anchor down during some tough growing up years, a solace from the storms raging about me, but I have to wonder, looking back, if someone had cared if I actually used my brain, what difference might that have made in my life? In the lives of others around me? In how I raised my own children?

Food for thought.


BTW Mr. Popper's Penguins is a delightful read, and a great conversation starter with children on pursuing what is really fulfilling, no matter what anyone else thinks about it.....


Gretchen said…
Love this, Bev. Also, a wise woman once told me that self esteem/the blues could be made better by doing work. Physical labor, outdoors in the sun, is best, but just by moving the body and completing a task. It's funny- when I get down, I want to be lazy/escapist in what I read. Nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but when that's ALL I want to do, there's a problem. Reading that occasional "broccoli" book amongst all the "ice cream" makes for great brain exercise, and, I agree, can lead to positive changes in our behavior. It's all connected. xxxooo
Bev said…
Gretchen, I love your way of putting it: 'broccoli" and "ice cream" books. I've also heard that 30 minutes of exercise outdoors is often as effective as antidepressant medication. I always dread exercise, but once I start doing it I generally enjoy it. I once went to a conference where the speaker said, "the difference between who you are now and who you will be in five years is mostly determined by the people you spend time with and the books you read." I've never forgotten that.

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