Because I sometimes teach high school literature in our co-op, I’m always on the hunt for new curriculum. I recently was able to try out Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis.  This is another great product by Writing with Sharon Watson, and it’s a keeper.

Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis

About Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis

This Christian world-view curriculum designed for 9th – 12th graders covers books, plays and short stories, each of which, you guessed it, features a character in crisis.  The following works are studied:

  • “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell
  • Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
  • Silas Marner by George Eliot
  • Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
  • “A White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewett
  • “The Garden of Forking Paths” by Jorge Luis Borges
  • “Haircut” by Ring Lardner
  • “The Lady, or the Tiger?” by Frank Stockton
  • “Of the Passing of the First-Born” by W. E. B. Du Bois
  • “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” by Dylan Thomas
  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  • A biography or autobiography of the student’s choice
  • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

The short stories and “A Jury of Her Peers” are included in the student book, so you’ll only need to buy the novels and plays to accompany this course.

There are three main components to this curriculum:


The textbook ($43) is jammed full of material.  Students learn literary terms, details about each writers’ life, a preview of the story before students begin reading it, as well as information about the culture and era of the time the story was written in.

Teacher’s Guide

The Teacher’s Guide ($18) includes everything a teacher will need to successfully teach this course whether you’re teaching your own child, teaching in a co-op, or teaching a book-of-the-month club.  There is an assignment schedule, as well as course objectives, and answers to the discussion questions.

Quiz and Answer Manual

The Quiz and Answer Manual ($9) includes two types of quizzes:  “Yes, I Read It” quizzes and “Literary Terms” quizzes.  Some of the works also have opinion surveys.  This book is not necessary as students also have the option to take the quizzes online, though it’s a great option if you’re teaching in a co-op setting or your child prefers pencil-paper tests.

Novel Notebook

Although not required, downloading the free Novel Notebook and having your student complete it helps to deepen their understanding of each story.  I highly recommend this.

If you’d like to see more of the curriculum yourself, Watson generously offers free downloads that give you a good feel for the curriculum.

My Experience Using This Program

I have previously taught “A Jury of Her Peers”, so I was very familiar with the story.  I worked my way through that unit, and then I moved on to Frankenstein, a book I had not read before.  Honestly, I was fascinated reading Watson summation of Mary Shelley’s life.  Wow.  What a life.  She brought dysfunction to a whole new level!

What I Like about Illuminating Literature

This is a solid literature program, and one I’d be happy to use it in our homeschool co-op.  (I also would love to use it with my own kids when they get older.)  I have also reviewed Watson’s Illuminating Literature: When World’s Collide, and if you choose to use both programs over your child’s high school career, it does not matter which you choose to use first.

I like the theme of characters in crisis; many teens can relate to the feeling of a crisis, so this is a good theme to choose.

The quizzes make it easy for teachers to make sure that students have done their reading, and there are ample questions for discussion.

I also love that at the end of a unit, Watson gives larger projects like writing a paper.  However, understanding that writing is not every person’s strength, she also offers alternatives.  For instance, at the end of “A Jury of Her Peers”, a story in which preserved jam played a large role, a student can choose to can their own jam as the large project.  Other alternative assignments include writing a song based on the story, or drawing, painting, or sculpting an event or character from the story.

What I’d Like to See Changed

Overall, I love the program and think it’s perfect the way it is.  The only thing I’d like to see changed is the editions of books that are used.  Watson often uses Dover Thrift editions, which are certainly easy on the wallet.  However, I’m getting older, and the print is so tiny in those editions, I have trouble reading them comfortably.  I know my students won’t have this same problem, but as the teacher, I want to read along, and it’s best to follow the editions the program uses because specific passages are noted by page number.  I’d be willing to pay a few dollars more so my old eyes could have a more comfortable reading experience!

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I was one of 40 people to review Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis.  To read more reviews, click on the icon below:

Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis {Writing with Sharon Watson Reviews}
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