High School Subjects
The Great Books Homeschool high school curriculum is designed for strong readers who are prepared to take on the great works of unabridged classic literature starting in ninth grade. In our literature courses, students read an average of one book (or an equivalent number of shorter works) each month over the course of a ten-month academic year.
Though our literature selections are challenging, they should not be boring. Especially for core assignments, we take care to choose books that are likely to resonate with high school students. We do not require students to write reports or answer questions about each book. We want students to enjoy the experience of reading great books and continue the habit of reading throughout their lives.
Instead of dividing books into American, British and world literature courses, we progress through a representative selection of Great Books chronologically over the four years of high school. We feel this approach better facilitates appreciation of the progression of literature over time, and eliminating nationality restrictions allows for inclusion of more relevant books.
We start ninth grade with the ancient epics of Gilgamesh, the Iliad and the Odyssey. We then spend a month on classic Greek plays, and another month on The Aeneid. After that, we move on to the ancient Indian epics of the Mahabharata and Ramayana, and then to Chinese classics Tao Te Ching and The Art of War. We read several books of the King James Bible, then transition to the medieval period. The Islamic Golden Age is represented by the Quran, Rumi and The Arabian Nights. We end the ninth grade course with a reading of Sundiata, one of the best examples of Africana oral literature dating from the medieval empire of Mali.
In tenth grade we introduce The Canterbury Tales, then spend a month on Dante's Divine Comedy. October is dedicated to Shakespeare, covering three core plays and three optional ones. We then read Don Quixote, Moliere and Milton. The remainder of the tenth grade year is spent on the golden age of nineteenth century novels, including works from Dickens, Austen and the Bronte sisters and great American novels like Huckleberry Finn and Moby Dick.
In eleventh grade students read Les Miserables, the longest required book in the high school curriculum and well worth the effort. This is read over the course of two months. (Students looking for additional challenge may also take on optional books by Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.) We then transition to the twentieth century with The Hound of the Baskervilles and Rudyard Kipling's Kim. The early to mid-twentieth century literature includes works by Zora Neale Hurston, John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway as well as the major dystopian novels that marked the post-World War II period. We end the eleventh grade course with Things Fall Apart, an iconic work of African literature.
Twelfth grade literature starts in the 1960s and continues up to the present day. We start with the classic American novel To Kill A Mockingbird, then move on to selections from Latin America and India. The remainder of the final year is spent on science fiction and contemporary classics like The Joy Luck Club, The Alchemist and The Kite Runner.
If you are starting after ninth grade or prefer to follow a different sequence, we also offer the option to design your own literature course by choosing you preferred selection from among these works (or adding your own).
Most months contain both core and optional readings. All students should try to complete the core readings, and those looking for additional challenge may take on the optional readings as time allows.
In the descriptive page for each book, we recommend a translation and include other information to help the student. It is not necessary to read the literary essays included in many editions of these works. Instead, we suggest that you prepare to read each book by reading one or two online reviews from publications like The New Yorker, and browsing discussions of the work on Quora.
If you are not used to unabridged classic literature, many of these readings will be challenging. We ask that you give each core book an honest trial, but you do not need to force yourself to finish something you have no taste for. If you decide not to finish a core reading, you may substitute one of the optional readings or another classic book of your choice.