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Blackbird & Company Literature Studies: The Shakespeare Stealer Review by Courtney Larson

Gary Blackwood
Blackbird & Company
11613 Washington Place
Los Angeles, CA 90066

I received a bundle from Blackbird & Company that contained a copy of The Shakespeare Stealer as well as their Level 3 Literature Guide for this book. Blackbird & Company publishes a series of guides, ranging from kindergarten level through grade seven. The Level 3 guides are the highest level, and they are suitable for grades five through seven. The guides are available for purchase alone or with a copy of the book for a slight discount.

My first impression of this literature guide was that care was taken in the design. It comes bound in a nice purple folder (all the Level 3 guides are in the same purple folder), with a crisp white label that contains the book title. It's always nice when a product comes nicely packaged.

The guides are intended to help the student "evaluate what they read," "respond with their own ideas through the process of writing," and "apply what they learn to their life and the world around them." The Level 3 guides are intended to take five weeks to complete, and there is an assignment checklist that breaks the guide down into five sections. This checklist also includes point values for each assignment so that a grade can easily be assigned when the guide is completed. There is an appendix that includes an explanation of how to use the guide as well as learning objectives and grading guidelines.

The first four section assignments follow the same pattern. As the student reads the assigned chapters, he or she is asked to journal about the characters and the setting and then summarize the plot for the assigned section. Following the journaling is a vocabulary page that lists a handful of vocabulary words to be defined, and then the student is asked to write a sentence for five of the words. Next comes several comprehension questions, and Blackbird & Company provides page numbers on their website where the answers can be found. Following the comprehension questions is a short writing assignment (a paragraph) that requires the student to make connections and applications. Finally, there are discussion questions.

The fifth section has suggestions for a final project. For The Shakespeare Stealer guide, the suggestions include writing a paper about Shakespeare, making a model of the Globe Theater and writing a paragraph about it, or choosing a favorite scene from the book and writing a Reader's Theater script.

I've never used a literature guide in my homeschool because I've always assumed they were just "fill in the blank" questionnaires. However, I am very impressed with this guide from Blackbird & Company. Instead of just reading for the answers, the student must pause and think about what he is reading in order to complete the journaling and writing assignments. This is a skill I've been working on with my 10-year-old son. I highly recommend the Blackbird & Company literature guides to other parents who want to teach their children to interact with the books they are reading.

Product review by Courtney Larson, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, February 2010