Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Review: Christian Reading Companion for 50 Classics

I jumped at the chance to review one of the newest titles from James Stobaugh, published by Master Books, a division of New Leaf Publishing Group.  Christian Reading Companion for 50 Classics is a fabulous addition to the library of any parent of junior high or high school kids.

We love literature here, though we don't always end up studying it in a way that feels like "enough."  Mostly, we read (aloud typically) and discuss, and maybe figure out a vocabulary word or two (or three).  With one high school student, and two in middle school, I really want to do something on a higher level.

While they are each doing some literary analysis types of things in their English coursework, I feel like with our family read-alouds, I could be doing so much more, and it shouldn't have to be boring overly analytical stuff that robs the joy of our read-aloud time.

So, this title intrigued me.  The sales pitch for it states this:
Reading and understanding the classics is important for college preparation, as well as for personal enjoyment. With the Christian Reading Companion for 50 Classics you can gain a deeper understanding of them from a Christian perspective. Selections include books and plays for both middle school and high school levels.
Whether supplementing an existing curriculum or doing a special survey course on classic literature, this is a challenging guide which presents:
  • Short descriptions of each title
  • Objective and discussion questions to stir thought
  • Quotations that give insights into character, plot, and more.
The student chapters are in the first part of the volume, and the teacher’s answer keys are available in the back section. The objective test portions are found in each chapter and also offered as a free download for classroom use at
This guided analysis is also a helpful introduction to the discussions found in Dr. Stobaugh’s American, British, and World Literature curriculum.
Get even more out of your literary experiences with a glossary, brief author biographies, and age-appropriate suggestions for your student. A detailed answer guide helps you turn a love of reading into a credited, educational course that will encourage an appreciation of the written word, develop vocabulary skills, and prompt a deeper interaction with books that are foundational for college-prep activities!
So that all sounds good, right?  Deeper Understanding.  Personal Enjoyment.  Appreciation of the Written Word.  I love the sound of all of that.

What do I think in real life though?  Bottom line:  I love this guide, and really do think every Christian parent of teens/tweens ought to have it on hand.  There are so many ways this could be used.
  • If your student is in school and reading any of these books, reading over the brief pages, and especially the answer keys, can help you to have intelligent discussions with your child from a Christian world view.  Depending on the school your child is at, this can either augment what they are learning, or you can provide a different point of view.
  • This could be used as the basis for a literature course for homeschoolers.
  • Or, like we are doing, you could use it to help guide discussion for family read-alouds.
We are currently reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which is one of the books suggested for "younger readers" which I interpreted as middle school.  What I love is that I can read over the two or so pages, and I am prepared for some of the material coming up.

The guide is broken down as follows:
  • an "objective test" which consists of five multiple choice questions that are very factual.  I'm saving those for the end.
  • vocabulary words, in context.  There are four paragraphs, each with a handful (two to five) of vocabulary words.  It is noted the part and chapter, so I know when to expect those paragraphs to come up.  As we get to them (we've gotten to two so far), I pause to ask the kids if they know what that word means, or if they can guess from context.  We discuss it for thirty seconds or so.  
  • discussion questions.  There are five for 20,000 Leagues, including one to compare the book to the Disney movie version.  Some questions are very literary-analysis types (is Nemo an antagonist or protagonist?).  Some point out characteristics of the work (the lengthy scientific explanations).  Some get into more philosophical types of areas (is Nemo justified in his quest?).  Some are a lot more fun, like the Disney question.
I like this.  Fairly low-key, and not enough to take away the fun of our read-alouds.  Nothing for my kids to stress out about at all.  In fact, for the most part, they don't even know we are "doing" literary analysis at all.

To see the trailer:

I received this ebook for free from New Leaf Publishing Group.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.   

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