In my review of The Last of the Mohicans, I mentioned that I was reading it for an American Literature class I’m teaching this year. My students are four homeschooled girls, ages 13, 14, 15, and 16. We meet once a week for two hours. We devote the majority of our first hour to the literature selection. We are also working through Vocabulary from Classical Roots, two lessons a week. I hope to get through books A, B, and C this year. The second hour is for Latin. I am using Matin Latin by Karen L. Craig.
Not knowing whether this class would continue longer than one school year, my goal when laying out the course plan was to give these girls an overview of American literature, so I decided to work in chronological order as much as possible. I consulted several lists, hoping to make this easier on myself by using mostly works I’d already read. The process revealed a hitherto unmarked weakness in my own education. This class will be for me as well as for the girls.
I have always been grateful to Mrs. Washenfelder, my sophomore English teacher. She made us read some things I might not have picked up for many years, if ever, on my own. If nothing else, a couple of these made other tomes seem relatively easy. Two that I remember specifically in the American literature department are Moby Dick and The Scarlet Letter. Though I loved Moby Dick and appreciated The Scarlet Letter, I chose not to inflict either of these selections on my girls this year. The two younger girls are quite sharp, but this might be a bit too much for our first year.
The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, published in 1826, was our first read. We read about 10 chapters a week (which amounted to about 100 pages) for four weeks. We are also reading through Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi. I hadn’t read it before, but the idea was to use this book as a historical backdrop since the Mississippi River was a main character in our country’s expansion history. Rather than devoting a block of time to Mississippi, we are reading only two chapters a week along with the main literature selection. My girls are keeping up admirably so far.
Representative of the 1830s and 40s, I had planned to incorporate some of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short stories, but hadn’t nailed down my choices by the time school started. I don’t know whether we’ll get back to this or not. I’m doing well to keep up with the pace I’ve set for my students. I may not find time to read and choose from the scores Hawthorne’s short works.
For the 1850s, we’ve started Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This should be interesting. Last week when everyone was supposed to be finished with Mohicans, I started class by asking what they thought of the ending. There was a chorus of groans, including harmony (this is a very musically inclined group). “It was SO sad!” They had read just enough of the beginning of Uncle Tom’s Cabin to know that it starts out sad. Uh oh, from a tragic ending to a tragic beginning. I may need to break out the comfort food for our next class. But these are teenaged girls. They are resilient and hungry.
My goal is to get through these selections in the nine months of a normal school year:
Also for the 1850s:
Hiawatha – Henry W. Longfellow
The gap here is because of the time restraint, not a lack of choices.
I have more lined up should we happen to make it past the first decade of the 20th century.
An unplanned reading of Ben-Hur lead to this writing assignment.