See the complete review in 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum.
Not all literature courses are created equal. Some seem to have selected reading material to meet multicultural or social goals rather than as examples of good literature. Others seem to focus on simple comprehension questions (e.g., identify the protagonist and the antagonist) and never get into “meaty” discussion questions that really engage students.
The BJU Press series for grades seven through twelve does a great job on both literary selections and worthwhile questions, especially if you are interested in developing a strong Christian worldview in your students. Courses in the series are Explorations in Literature (7th), Excursions in Literature (8th), Fundamentals of Literature (9th), Elements of Literature (10th), American Literature (11th), and British Literature (12th).
They feature an interesting mix of reading material. Many reading selections authored by non-Christians are included both for literary value and to help students learn how to identify different perspectives authors bring to their works. However, literary analysis and enjoyment is taught from a Protestant perspective; so much so in American Literature and British Literature that those with other religious beliefs will have trouble with some of the selected readings, discussion questions, and the “Scriptural Application” part of the lessons presented in the teacher editions. Application sections at all levels almost always relate the reading selection to biblical ideas or principles.
One of the main purposes of this series is to help students progress beyond reading simply for pleasure to enjoying reading for inspiration and wisdom. Discussion questions are one of the primary tools used to make that happen.
The discussion questions are particularly good in this series, and they can be used for either oral discussion or writing assignments. At junior high level, they focus more on recall and comprehension. Fundamentals and Elements shift toward more literary analysis, helping students grasp the fundamentals of critical interpretation and recognize the literary elements at work in a piece of literature. American Literature and British Literature draw upon the literary concepts taught in earlier grades and challenge students to think critically about the pieces they read—to analyze the text, to synthesize ideas, and to evaluate ideas from a biblical worldview. For example, American Literature includes a short story “The Minister’s Black Veil” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Among the discussion questions are the following: “In your opinion, does Hooper’s self-imposed isolation represent self-denial for the edification of others, or is it symbolic of misdirected religious zeal? Discuss Hawthorne’s theme in light of I John 1:8-10” (p. 306).
Parents and teachers need to be familiar with the readings so they can lead discussions. While students can do a certain amount of work independently, parents will need to invest some time preparing for each lesson. Teacher editions provide background, analysis, and suggested answers, so even teachers without a background in literature can teach these courses. As with all literature anthologies, parents and teachers are not expected to use every selection. Choose some from each section to fit your own goals and time schedule.
Each course includes a student text and a two-volume, spiral-bound teacher edition. Teacher editions have images of reduced student pages. Below the images of student pages and in the side margins is valuable teaching information. Also, words, sentences, or paragraphs in the reduced student pages of the teacher’s edition are highlighted in different colors to match corresponding colored margin notes for the teacher. These highlighted sections can indicate a point of discussion, a definition, an example of a literary element, or a cross-reference.
Teacher editions for American Literature and British Literature provide reproducible, supplemental activity pages and teaching helps located at the back of the book. Teacher editions for Explorations, Excursions, Fundamentals, and Elements include a Teacher’s Toolkit CD-ROM (inside the back cover) with teacher support materials, such as worksheets, graphic organizers, reading quizzes, writing rubrics, and standardized test practice in reading and vocabulary.
Tests and answer keys for each course can be ordered separately, but subject kits for all courses include tests and answer keys along with a student text and the teacher edition.
[Descriptions of individual courses are in the complete review in 102 Top Picks.]