Bob Jones Press tends to do things just a little better than comparable comprehensive programs, and with their literature course they don't disappoint. In fact, BJU Literature is one of the better literature curricula we've seen, not only introducing students to a wide range of excellent fiction and non-fiction but teaching them to analyze and interpret it. The number of authors middle and high school students will encounter is impressive, sure to prepare them for college if that's where they're headed, and likely to turn them into readers if they aren't.
How Do These Work?
The course picks up where BJU Reading ends, covering grades 7-12. The first four volumes for grades 7-10 present a wide variety of world literature from Tolstoy to the Bible to Cornelia Meigs, with grade 11 focusing on American and grade 12 on British literature. For each grade there is a student text, teacher edition, and test book with key. Only the test books are consumable, so you don't have to worry about buying a complete set for each of your children or students. (The newer 7th & 8th grade texts have "Thinking Zones" you can write in, but you're not forced to do so.)
Student texts present a variety of classic and contemporary short stories, novel excerpts, poems, plays, essays, etc. Longer works are usually abridgments or excerpts, though occasionally a complete text will be included. There are almost no adaptations, so kids are reading the actual source material and not someone's interpretation. Notes in the text define difficult words, mark important literary devices and aid analysis. Author bios and essays on how to read and understand great literature supplement throughout. Full-color art illustrates throughout.
The teacher editions are quite helpful. Each page of the student text appears in reduced format and is further explained with extensive notes and ideas for presentation of the material during in-class lectures. Lesson plans provide a guide for the year and ensure that you won't have to put much (if any) planning into class time beforehand. Tests include multiple choice, matching, short answer and essay questions; all answers are included in the key, including what to look for in essay answers.
There is a clear progression in difficulty and content throughout the series. Students begin by learning the basic elements of plot, principles of characterization, and understanding style, and go on to apply this knowledge to perform close readings of texts in order to discover what an author is trying to say. Examples are often fairly obvious which could be seen as a flaw, but since kids are just learning the process of literary analysis in middle and high school, this shouldn't be a problem.
If you just want your kids to be exposed to some of the best literature, have them read the student books on their own; if you want them to learn to read, analyze and understand great literature, buy the complete course for each level you intend to have them complete. This latter kind of reading is one of the core elements of a good education, so we recommend not just letting students read without discussion or more in-depth work. The object, after all, isn't to train readers—it's to train thoughtful and discerning readers, and BJU Literature will help you do that.
The second editions have revised tables of contents. Most stories have been retained from the first editions, but there are a number of changes, varying by volume. But the main differences are in the rewritten unit introductions and the new "Thinking Zones," which usually develop a concept being introduced in the unit. These are very helpful and have no parallel in the first editions. Also, questions in the second editions, while not completely (or even mostly) changed, seem to ask for more critical thinking and often better apply to the subject of the unit.
Our Honest Opinion:
Of course there are programs that cover literary analysis more intensively, like Teaching the Classics. However, even the best of these almost never simultaneously introduce kids to the broad range of material they'll find here. BJU Literature lets kids into the world of O. Henry, Ray Bradbury, Ernest Hemingway, William Shakespeare, John Donne, and on and on....and teaches them how to navigate it. While definite improvements could be made to the course (most notably, a greater emphasis on composition), this is a very good place to begin your students' serious literary education.
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.
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