Literature Curriculum

If the goal of reading literature was simply to be "well read," we'd only offer one curriculum choice and it'd be some speed reading course guaranteed on television. We might carry SparkNotes, too, and then you'd be way ahead.

Unfortunately, it's not that easy. Really reading a book takes effort, and it's a skill that must be taught and developed; the rare child who can navigate Dante's Divine Comedy successfully and without help is one technically known as a Genius—while that may describe your kiddo, we'd encourage you not to bank on it.

What if you (the parent) have never learned to read that way? That describes a lot of us, but there's no reason to worry. An increasing number of resources and curricula are being developed with precisely this difficulty in mind, and either teach the child directly, or teach the parent to instruct the child (often learning the material simultaneously).

Our favorite is Teaching the Classics, a course uncovering the mysteries of literary analysis for kindergartners, high school students, parents, grandparents, etc. Adam and Missy Andrews take parents through the basics of plot and character, identifying the work's theme, understanding the cultural and philosophical background of the author, worldview considerations, and more, demonstrating the depth a work can have and what readers need to know to get the most out of it.

This is the approach we favor—joining parents and children together in the learning process, and guiding both toward an ability to integrate knowledge and collate information rather than simply gathering facts. Knowledge without wisdom is useless, and accepting the challenge literature offers (to engage a text that uses poetic language rather than straightforward statements which can be proved or disproved, and try to make sense of it) is a step toward the application of truths acquired.

Even a cursory examination will show that we carry a lot of literature guides. While these aren't ideal for use by themselves, they do make excellent supplements, and some of the better ones really do impart a lot of information and some necessary analytical skills. Most series cover all or most of the grades, so that if you find one you like it's easy to stick with those texts through high school.

Here is a quick summary of the Literature curricula we offer, in alphabetical order:

A Beka Literature Grades 7-12

A Beka Literature provides complete literature courses for middle and high school students, relying on a textbook approach in which kids read excerpts of great literature with a smattering of commentary, then answer exercise questions and take tests that gauge comprehension.

AOP Literature Grades 9-12

AOP Lifepacs: Literature offers two courses for high school that cover American and British literature. Students read selections of classic works in the workbooks (as well as acouple complete novels from separate texts) and answer questions. Exercises emphasize comprehension over analysis.

BJU Literature Grades 7-12

BJU Literature is far superior to other courses like it, offering plenty of accurate information about authors and introducing students to the fundamentals of literary analysis. Everything you need is in the textbooks (including exercises), though you can supplement with complete novels.

Cadon Creek Literature Guides Grades 3-12

Cadron Creek Literature Guides focus on one book (or one series) apiece per guide, and use a more folksy unit study approach that includes making period meals, sewing projects, and character development. Books covered include The Chronicles of Narnia and Anne of Green Gables.

Evan-Moor Literature & Poetry Grades K-6+

Multiple options from Evan-Moor help elementary and early middle school students understand the basics of analysis and comprehension. Literature Pockets are basically mini unit studies, while How to Report on Books and Read & Understand Poetry are more traditional literature supplements.

Five in a Row Grades K-12

For unit study fans, Five-in-a-Row uses classic children's literature to connect science, history, grammar, math, art, etc., with complete lesson plans. Creator Jane Claire Lambert's approach appeals to kinesthetic, auditory, and visual learners alike.

Memoria Press Literature Guides Grades 1-12

Memoria Press has recently released a number of very good guides, and the editors continue to add to the selection.The guides follow a pretty standard format in which students become acquainted with the bare essentials of analysis while focusing on comprehension and vocabulary-building.

Novel Thinking Guides Grades 3-6

If you're wanting a straightforward literature course that emphasizes analysis over mere comprehension, the Novel Thinking Guides could be just what you need. Not written from a Christian perspective, the guides are nonetheless unbiased, fun, and challenging, and based on great children's classics.

P&R Literature Grades 3-10

P&R Press has streamlined several great children's classics by trimming away outdated and confusing language, presenting them alongside comprehension guides that emphasize Christian virtue and the character-building elements of these famous stories.

Progeny Press Literature Guides Grades K-12

Progeny Press Guides offer a wider variety of titles both in print and CD-ROM formats. Exercises are weighted more toward comprehension than analysis, along with vocabulary drill and hands-on activities for younger kids. These are among the most popular items at Exodus Books.

Smarr Literature Guides Grades 9-12

The benefit of Smarr Literature Guides: students will learn how to delve into literature to really understand it, not just to remember the plot and characters. Also, Robert Watson covers books most other literature guide publishers seem never to have heard of, though his analysis is sometimes odd.

TCM Literature Units Grades 1-8

Utilizing the whole language approach, Teacher Created Materials Literature Units provide novel-based lessons that include vocabulary, geography, art, math, science, history, and many other elements, showing students how the content of the books they read relates to the world around them.

Teaching the CLassics Grades K-12

Adam and Missy Andrews offer a range of products, primarilyTeaching the Classics, which provides basic tools for understanding fiction and worldviews; Reading Roadmaps, which is a K-12 literature curriculum syllabus for use with Teaching the Classics; and a number of resources for studying specific classic novels.

Total Language Plus Guides Grades 3-12

We don't carry them currently, but the TLP Guides are a great choice, offering several uncommon titles and more in-depth analysis education. Kids learn a literary analysis side-by-side with grammar and composition, showing them how studying literature is important on a practical level.

Veritas Press Literature Guides Grades K-9

Veritas Press publishes several guides based on some of the more prominent children's and young adult classics. Each guide is consumable, with plenty of exercises for students to complete. Unlike other options, the Veritas Press Literature Guides focus on analysis as much as on comprehension.

Veritas Press Omnibus Grades 7-12

For high schoolers, the Veritas Press Omnibus series introduces great classic literature, theology, philosophy, etc., with commentary from Christian writers like Gene Veith and Peter Leithart. Students read source texts alongside the Omnibus text, and write papers about everything they read.

Literature curriculum can be dangerous. Some of it is inaccurate, or presents the author's opinion as fact or biblical principle (the Smarr guides are particularly guilty of this). When a course departs from finding the meaning in a text, and turns to imposing meaning on a text, it has stopped teaching students how to think and has begun telling them what to think. We don't like that, and don't think it's a good idea to subject your kids to such material.

We also don't think it's a good idea to ignore your children's literature education. Its applications extend far beyond books—a reader able to analyze a text, appraise it according to biblical standards, and adjust their attitudes and behavior accordingly will be able to do the same thing in any number of other contexts, from watching movies to listening to the radio news to talking with coworkers.

The courses we carry are all from a Christian perspective, principally for this reason. Right thinking is biblical thinking, and to learn to read a book correctly is to learn how to read a book as an aware Christian. If we can succeed in raising adults who can do this, we will have succeeded in advancing Christ's Kingdom that much farther.

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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