A Beka Literature exposes kids to enough great writing in manageable doses that they can appreciate it with little frustration, and get a sense of each author's style in order to discover which writers they prefer. Since all stories, poems, novel excerpts, plays, etc. are quality selections, you don't have to worry about them getting hooked on the cheap fiction too many kids read.
The program covers grades 7-12. Every level includes a student text and a test/quiz book with answer key; the teacher editions are optional. Tests and quizzes gauge comprehension through multiple choice, matching and short answer questions. The teacher guides include some supplementary material, answers to in-text exercises, and lesson plans, but not much else. The student texts contain literature with brief author biographies, exercise questions and (in the newer editions) tables for determining reading speed.
For grades 10-12 students read complete texts along with the content of the student books; older editions included these in the student books, current editions use separate volumes published by A Beka. These texts include Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare and Silas Marner by George Eliot for 10th grade; The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne for 11th grade; and for 12th grade, Macbeth by William Shakespeare and Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. If you're using the lesson plans in the teacher's editions you'll want to get the A Beka versions, otherwise it doesn't matter what edition you use.
In older editions, grades 7-8 covered world literature, grades 9-10 covered American, and 11-12 covered English literature. The current editions cover world literature in grades 7-10, saving American literature for 11th and English literature for 12th. A general framework holds through all editions and levels, however—students read selections from classic literature and answer a few questions. In the later grades, composition exercises are integrated to encourage writing and critical thinking skills.
Some of the best Western literature is represented here. While there are noticeable absences (little attention is paid to 20th century works), students get a broad taste ranging from fiction to poetry to essays and political writing. Perhaps the most regrettable deficiency is the lack of Eastern literature, though since A Beka is a famously conservative Christian publisher and most extent Eastern documents are unchristian philosophy and religion, this is understandable (and illustrates the fact that you don't need to worry about your kids encountering anything offensive here).
Like all A Beka products, their literature course is clearly Christian (though they make an admirable effort in these books to not "Christianize" texts or authors that aren't). Also like every other program A Beka offers, this one can be either student- or teacher-directed. A Beka Literature requires no teacher supervision, as students can simply read the material on their own. If you have them complete the exercises you'll probably want to check their work, but the teacher editions make that easy.
Avid readers of our reviews (if such abnormal persons exist) will probably know that we seldom give the highest marks to A Beka programs. And in all honesty, there is a glaring flaw in their literature course—students are not taught to analyze and understand literature. They are taught to pay attention while they read and remember details, but putting those together to form ideas and conclusions is neglected. At the same time, many literature courses expose kids to a limited number of works, and the true breadth of literature is left hidden.
If you simply want your kids to read as much great literature as possible, this is probably the course you're looking for (unless you prefer to just buy them a Longman anthology, but those are over the heads of most high schoolers, and uncensored). The fact that there's little external structure to the course makes it more likely students won't end up hating to read, since it's less like completing assignments and more like reading for pleasure....as if there's any other way to read. A Beka Literature isn't perfect, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.