Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis ~ Review

Out of all the subjects I need to teach AJ, the one that is the most difficult is English. For middle school I basically made up my own curriculum. I pre-read the books and then looked for literature units online or made them myself. It was very time consuming. For high school I wanted something that was put together for me. I wanted a literature course that I could easily teach with little prep work. We were given the chance to review Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis from Writing with Sharon Watson and I was eager to try it out.

What is Characters in Crisis?

Characters in Crisis is the second volume in the Illuminating Literature series. But your student doesn’t need to take the courses in order. Characters in Crisis is a full year high school literature course that can be used during any year in high school. During the course your student will read a variety of short stories and:

  • Frankenstein
  • Silas Marner
  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • Sense and Sensibility
  • The Hobbit and
  • A biography or autobiography of your choice

The course is written to the student and is broken up into four main components.

The Textbook

Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis
The Textbook is the main part of the program. It contains all of the lessons and the short stories that the student will read. The Textbook is almost 300 pages long and is packed full of information. In this course your student will do more than simply read and answer questions. They will really learn how to analyze literature and how to view it differently. One of the first lessons in the course isn’t even a reading assignment. The student is introduced to different types of characters. Then they are told to analyze a book or movie of their choice and explain what type of character each of the main characters were.

At the beginning of each unit the student is given a plan to follow so that they can complete all of the required work. While there are a lot of things for the student to do, the timeline is reasonable. The tasks are broken down to help ensure the student can be successful.

Throughout the course your student will learn and work with a lot of literary terms, beyond the basics. They will look at stories from different points of view and dig deep into the reading.

A unit usually takes between three to four weeks to complete. During that time your student will take a “Yes, I read it” quiz and a literary terms quiz, they will complete work in the textbook, complete work in their Novel Notebook, and complete an end of unit activity based on the reading.

AJ really enjoyed the variety that is offered in the end of unit activity. The student has a choice to do a project that fits their learning style. Some of the options for the first unit, A Jury of Her Peers include:

  • Research the history of women on juries
  • Draw, paint, or sculpt an event or character from the story
  • Rewrite the story from a different character’s perspective
  • Learn how to can fruit
  • Learn sewing stiches
  • Write a song based on something in the story
  • Conduct Minnie’s Trial
  • And more options

Each option has something to do with the story. I think giving the students options is a great idea. But knowing AJ, I decided that she had to pick a project from a different category for the following unit. Otherwise she would always pick something like learning sewing stiches.


Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis
One neat thing about this program is that there is a lot of flexibility. Your student has two options for taking quizzes. They can take them online where they are automatically graded. They will need a password to take the quiz. It can be found in the textbook. Or they can take the quizzes on paper. In order to take the quizzes on paper you will need to purchase the Quiz and Answer Manual. I prefer the online option since it is graded for me.

Novel Notebook

Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis
Aside from the Textbook, the Novel Notebook is the other major part of the program. It can be downloaded for free and printed out. As your student completes the lessons, they will be instructed to fill out the pages in their notebook. The novel notebook is full of questions that make the student think beyond the basics of the story. They are forced to dissect the characters. I think this is a great tool to help students really understand a book beyond the surface. I only wish it was available already printed out, because it does take a lot of ink to print it all out.

Teacher’s Guide

Illuminating Literature: Characters in Crisis
The Teacher’s Guide really is needed to teach this course. While the course is written to the student, the Teacher’s Guide keeps the teacher in the loop to what the student is learning and contains all of the answers. It also explains how to grade the course and how to use the program in a group setting.

What We Thought

Reading isn’t AJ’s favorite subject, so we worked on the course together. Each day she did a little bit of work to stick with the schedule. She would work on the lessons and completing the pages in the novel notebook. In the past, courses expected too much reading and didn’t give her enough time to really understand the books. That wasn’t the case this time. The lessons were full of useful information, there was enough time to complete assignments, there wasn’t a lot of busy work, and the course was easy to grade. So far we are planning to stick with this program. I am excited to see AJ grow in her reading and writing skills with this program. If you have a high school student, I would highly recommend checking out Characters in Crisis! You can view sample pages here.

Find out what other members of the Homeschool Review Crew thought by clicking on the graphic below.

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