Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Meet Deconstructing Penguins. Great title, isn't it? It came highly recommended for kids M1's age on a homeschool forum that I frequent, so I bought it.
And then I read it.
Deconstructing Penguins, here on out referred to as DP because that title may only be two words but it's a pain in the backside to type repeatedly, follows the journey of a book club for elementary school students and their parents. In other words, they teach 7-year-olds how to analyze a book!
The literatus inside me peed a little bit from excitement.
I love the idea of being able to teach M1 that there's more going on inside a book than just words on a page. Love it. I had no clue about literature analysis until I was a sophomore in high school. Granted, I had an absolutely astounding English teacher that year and I learned a TON, but it was tough stuff. I still can't read Emily Dickenson without flashbacks, and I strongly suspect that I'll never be able to read "The Crucible" again, either. To be fair, though, both of those might have more to do with the teacher than actual psychological trauma, because she dressed up as Emily Dickenson for some of our readings (she had a particular passion for the woman) and, well, the phrase, "I saw Goody [teacher's surname] with the Devil!" still rings in my ears.
She also had French manicured fingernails, drove a black BMW, and had a disabled son. She was very memorable, and she was very good people and a great teacher.
I know for a fact that no matter what age I introduce the idea of symbolism to M1, he will have a tough time with it. He is literal. Sometimes I have to walk out of the room and take a deep breath to deal with the depth of his literal interpretations. If Oz catches me and gives me his quizzical look, I just say, "Literal Boy is being literal again," and he understands. So if I ask M1 what happens in the book Charlotte's Web, he can give me a play-by-play of the entire book, and I'm about 99% sure that he quotes phrases straight out from the text. I know he does when we rehash a history or science lesson. It's a side effect of Asperger's, so I understand where it's coming from, but it just makes my job that much harder because in order to get him to successfully look beyond the black-and-white - in more ways than one - it's going to take a lot of work.
This is where DP steps in. While I don't agree with the book's definitions of protagonist and antagonist, the PROCESS is what's important here. To be able to teach kids terms like setting, character, climax, theme - in other words, to be able to break down a book into its parts from a whole - and have them actually understand what is meant, is huge. Huge, I say.
Is it going to be easy?
Ah, there's the rub.
Heck, no. And I don't intend to pursue this actively or often, either. What I would like to do is pick one book every three or four months and pick one part of it to examine. For example, one of M1's favorite books is My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. It's one of my favorites, too, and his copy was actually MY copy from when I was young. So I'll probably start there. And we'll examine the setting, using the detective method from DP, starting with WHERE and ending with WHY.
My fingers are crossed. This may be an Epic Fail plan because I refuse to make him despise reading, and I know literature analysis can do that if it's pushed too hard, so I plan to tread lightly. I just want him to love books as much as I do and be able to understand them, and if DP is able to help me get there, I'm all for giving it a go! Hopefully I'll remember to come back and update with how it all goes; somebody remind me if I don't!