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Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis Review by Laura O’Neill

Sharon Watson
Writing with Sharon Watson

Literature has been a component of high school programs for years. However, many textbooks for brick and mortar schools present key topics with the use of excerpts from different novels and plays. Occasionally, they do include an entire play or encourage the teacher to require students to read particular novels. While this may appeal to some, there are other students who want to learn concepts alongside complete works of literature.

Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis from Writing with Sharon Watson is a one-year high school level course which does just that. With 8 chapters containing 4 weeks a piece, it takes two semesters to complete.

To complete the course, you will need to purchase the Textbook ($46) and Teacher’s Guide ($18.) Quizzes administered during the class can be taken online at no charge. Alternatively, you can purchase the Quiz and Answer Manual ($9) which provides copyright usage to your family. The Novel Notebook which is integral to the course is provided as a pdf download at no charge.

Literature Selections contained within this course are:

“A Jury of Her Peers,” by Susan Glaspell, in the textbook

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, Dover Publications

Silas Marner, by George Eliot, Dover Publications

Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare, Dover Publications

An Assortment of Short Stories:

“A White Heron,” by Sarah Orne Jewett, in the textbook

“The Garden of Forking Paths,” by Jorge Luis Borges, link provided

“Haircut,” by Ring Lardner, link provided

“The Lady, or the Tiger?” by Frank Stockton, in the textbook

“Of the Passing of the First-Born,” by W. E. B. Du Bois, in the textbook

“A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” by Dylan Thomas, link provided

Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen, Dover Publications

Biography or autobiography of student’s choice

The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien, Mariner Books

It is recommended that you purchase the specific edition of the five novels not included in the textbook. That way your student can easily find placement as items are discussed in the lessons and avoid frustration of finding the mentioned passage in a different edition. Ms. Watson has the specific editions of the five novels linked on her product page for ease of purchase.

This course is written so that material can be easily understood by the student with some guidance through the study by a teacher or homeschool parent.

After a short introductory chapter meant to take up to one week to complete, each literature selection is contained within a chapter. Using four weeks to complete each chapter, this program offers the ability to be used as a ‘once a month book club’ or other co-operative learning experience. Ms. Watson has a suggested schedule for this approach in the Teacher’s Guide. For students not working in a group setting, she provides a suggested pace to complete the work in the four-week time period.

At the start of each chapter, the student is given a brief reading for before they begin the selection. Lessons comprise the chapter with notation in the lesson when they should read the assigned text or another item referenced. Along the way, they will encounter questions to help them dig deeper.

Walking hand in hand with the textbook, is the Novel Notebook. This pdf file is intended to be printed and placed in a three-ring binder. Visually appealing pages seek to engage the student in more thorough contemplation of the key components of the reading. Individual lessons in the student text will indicate when to work on pages in the notebook.

When they approach the end of the chapter, students will find quizzes and the need to select and activity or project to complete. The quizzes can be done online with the student entering a password to access them. Name and email are other information requested so that the system can send a final report to the student with all the questions, their answers, and assigned grade. The activity is chosen from a list of options.

The Teacher’s Guide provides a short overview of each chapter’s themes as well as suggested Facebook posts for a private monthly group if using the program in a co-operative setting. For each lesson, you are given objectives and key points along with suggested answers to the questions. At the end of the chapter, there is a grading grid to help you easily assign a grade.

As a busy homeschool parent, I seek out programs that guide my student through the work as well as giving me suggested answers to questions. While I aspire to read novels alongside my student, there are times when life gets busy and I need a helping hand. Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis provides a great framework for my son to follow while giving me the tools I need to mentor him through it.

I particularly appreciated reading through the introductory chapter of the textbook. Ms. Watson shares her course philosophy and recognizes that not everyone will see a ‘great book’ as great. Yet, each title will have nuggets that speak to people. Novels and plays also provide reinforcement of man’s fallen state. Because of this, we should be holding them up to “the light of the truths you find in The Bible.”

If you have a student who is used to fill in the blank responses rather than thought provoking questions, you may experience some backlash over the workload. However, once they begin working through the material they may find it more enjoyable to read entire literature selections and dig in deep.

Overall, this program is well written and easy to put into practice in a homeschool setting. My personal preference would be to arrange for the once a month book club approach or use it in a cooperative setting. That would provide more opinions when discussing each title using the questions near the end of each chapter.

-Product review by Laura O’Neill, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, July, 2018