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Ben and Me: Level 2 Literature Guide Review by Dawn Oaks

Blackbird & Company Educational Press
11613 Washington Place
Los Angeles, CA 90066

Blackbird & Company Educational Press is a publisher of literature guides. Their product line is divided into four levels. The Early Bird level is most appropriate for K-2. Level 1 is geared toward grades 1-3. Level 2 is designed with grades 3-5 in mind. And finally, Level 3 is for those in grades 5-7. Our family had the opportunity to review a Level 2 literature guide for the book Ben and Me by Robert Lawson.

In the front of the literature guide is a brief introduction, immediately followed by the Assignment Checklist. This checklist lists the individual assignments that the student will be expected to complete in each section. Next to each assignment is a suggested number of points that the assignment is worth (for a total of 100 points for the entire study). There is also room for teacher comments next to the five sections of assignments.

The first four sections contain exercises in evaluating the characters, plot, and setting for the assigned chapters in the book. Following this analysis are vocabulary terms to be defined and used in an original sentence written by the student. There are comprehension questions that help the student reflect on what he/she has read. Most of the questions can be answered in one to two complete sentences. The final student exercise is a creative writing project. A topic wheel is provided to assist the student in organizing his thoughts, as well as a page for a rough draft and one for the final published copy. Discussion questions sum up the section, facilitating dialogue between the student and teacher/parent.

The fifth section in the guide is a final project. The student is presented with six options to choose from, ranging from making a diorama of a favorite scene in the story to building and flying a kite that was just like Benjamin Franklin's to researching the inventions of Benjamin Franklin and making a model of one them.

My daughter (11 years old and currently working at a sixth-grade level) assisted me in reviewing this product. She thoroughly enjoyed the book Ben and Me. She felt that the vocabulary words selected for the vocabulary exercises were the best choices from the respective chapters. However, her disappointment lay in that she felt like she was kept from fully enjoying the story because of the amount of written work required for each section before moving on. We averaged about one day to read the assigned chapters for each section and then another 3-4 days to complete the written assignments associated with those chapters. She really just yearned to get back into the book. Rather than helping to create enthusiasm and excitement around the text, the exercises felt confining. My daughter wished that there had been more hands-on projects throughout the guide and that the essay-style writing had been saved for the final project.

We were quite happy with the physical quality of the guide. There was adequate space to write responses to the exercises. The binding allowed the pages to lie flat for easier writing. And the cover seemed to be more durable than the covers of other literature guides we've seen. Blackbird & Company offers the literature guide alone for approximately $15, or you can purchase a set that includes the guide and a copy of the corresponding book for about $20.

Product review by Dawn Oaks, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, March 2010