Reading is more than just a subject in school, it can be a way of life. It can take you into a world as foreign, or familiar, as you choose. It can be educational, inspirational, or fun. But it can also be arduous, abstruse, and obscure. Sometimes we need a little help understanding what's written, or the author's true intent. 

Progeny Press has created wonderful study guides to help your students understand and enjoy what they are reading. As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, we were given a free copy of Things Fall Apart Study Guide.
Progeny Press was created in 1992 by Michael & Rebecca Gilleland. Their search for quality classic literature guides with a Christian Worldview yielded little and as homeschooling parents, this wasn't acceptable. Their first study guide was tested in a Christian school and loved. Now, 21 years later, Progeny Press offers more than 100 study guides that are edited and reviewed by The Gilleland's to ensure their high standards are met. 

Their mission: "To teach our children to think clearly, to understand literature, and to rely on the scripture for truth and values, and enjoy themselves while they do it!" (PP) You can read more about Progeny Press on their About Us page.

We have benefited from Progeny Press' study guides in the past. We had reviewed their guides back in March of 2012 and liked them so much I have since purchased a few more to use for our Co-op's classical book discussion. They are written well and thorough, but more importantly, offer a christian perspective in the analysis of each book. In my own research for study guides, I have found Progeny Press to be one of the only company's that offer this. 
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Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, is a book unfamiliar to me prior to this review so I was happy to have received the Things Fall Apart Study Guide to complement it. We did purchase the book as it does not come with the study guide, but it is very reasonable and may be available from your local library.

The story is about Okonkwo, an Ibo clansman from a Nigerian village ,Umuofi . It takes place in the late 1800's which was entering the beginning of a time of change for what is now called Nigeria. The British would soon be attempting, and succeeding, at colonization of Nigeria, and Christianity was entering into communities, disrupting and disputing the belief system in place there for generations. 

Chinua Achebe was born in 1930 in Nigeria to a Christian teacher. He wrote Things Fall Apart to depict Nigeria and it's culture true to history and not just as perceived by many. He writes of "the complex rules, patterns, values, and rituals of Okonkwo's society". And he "weaves their vivid language, proverbs, and stories into the novel" (Things Fall Apart Study Guide, pg. 8).

The main idea of Things Fall Apart, to me, is best described when Achebe writes,
"Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand. His wives, especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper, and so did his little children. Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness. It was deeper and more intimate than the fear of evil and capricious gods and of magic, the fear of the forest, and of the forces of nature, malevolent, red in tooth and claw. Okonkwo's fear was greater than these. It was not external but lay deep within himself. It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father. . . And so Okonkwo was ruled by one passion - to hate everything that his father Unoka had loved" (Chapter 2, pg. 13)

These words foreshadow, to me, Okonkwo's impending demise. Okonkwo strived so hard at not being who his father was and being a man, that his life was filled with ill-fated decisions and actions. 

Progeny Press chose an excellent piece in Things Fall Apart to create a study guide for. Because the book is rich with a different culture and belief system, having a study guide to help understand it is critical, at least to me. There are many aspects of Okonkwo's culture that we are not familiar with, and the study guide explains it well. And offering this through a Christian perspective allows the reader/student to understand it without criticizing it.

Things Fall Apart Study Guide, like most of the Progeny Press study guides, is broken down into groups of around 3 chapters each. Each of these includes a combination of the following activities: Vocabulary, Questions, Characterization, Analysis, Dig Deeper, and Optional Activities. Also included in each of the study guides are the following sections: Synopsis, About the Author, Historical and Cultural Background, Pre-reading Activities, Overview, Essay suggestions, and Additional Resources.

One of the things I liked in this study guide was a Dig Deeper section for chapters 1-3. It described the various "cultural responses to sin". There was info on Shame Based Societies, Fear Based Societies, and Guilt Based Societies. I just found this fascinating. I'm not sure why, I just did : ^ ) Progeny Press has added it all. You can view a sample of Things Fall Apart Study Guide here

According to Progeny Press, Things Fall Apart Study Guide is designed for students in grades 10-12. Because the story is intense, I do believe that this age group would be likely to understand and appreciate it better than younger students. But I also believe that if there were a student in middle school (6th or 7th-9th) they might be able to understand it if working with an older student or parents. The book does have violence, domestic and criminal, as well as information about gods, oracles, and magic, since this was the culture and belief system of Okonkwo's society. 

How To Purchase: Progeny Press offers both the book and the study guide, but they are sold separately. Things Fall Apart, the book, is available for $11.95. Things Fall Apart Study Guide is available as a printed booklet - $21.95, CD - $18.99, or Instant Download - $18.99.

What We Thought: This was a difficult book to read, at times. There were a few chapters that had flashbacks and "two intertwining stories", that really made it necessary to concentrate on what I was reading. There are so many distractions around me that I often end up reading a paragraph a couple of times before getting the true meaning of it. I am glad that I had the study guide to help decipher what I was reading, or more importantly, bring an understanding to what was important.

The questions posed and the Dig Deeper sections of the study guide really brought about great conversations while we were studying this book. Questions like: "Which of the three responses to sin most closely resembles the culture in which you live?", "In Chapt 9, a medicine man told Okonkwo  'that [Elwefi's] child was an ogbanje, one of those wicked children who, when they died, entered their mother's wombs to be born again'. . .What do these statements imply that the Ibo believe about the afterlife? Read Hebrews 9:27-28. What do these verses say about birth and rebirth?". The questions not only helped to ensure an understanding and remembrance of what was read, but give a deeper understanding of what God and His Word says about the different subjects.

My 17yo daughter read the book on her own. She liked it, though she thought it was "dark". My 12yo son and I read through the book together. We all did the study guide together. We had the PDF file, which allows for answers to be typed into the file instead of having to print the pages. (It can still be printed if chosen.) We liked this. I didn't have to worry about using ink unnecessarily. We chose to do a few of the Dig Deeper questions and the Optional Activities, but not all of them. Progeny Press suggests to do one section a week, which could technically be done and include all of the extra optional work, but for the sake of this review, we chose to progress a little faster and not complete all of the work. We were still able to gain a much better understanding of the book. I did choose not to complete the essays (at least on paper). We did discuss the questions and thought about how we would answer. I really like being able to have open discussions with the kids about deeper subject matter like that included in Things Fall Apart. Even though it is based on a society that existed more than 100 years ago, there are still many relevant situations in today's world. 

I believe that the Things Fall Apart Study Guide would be an excellent resource for your high school student if they are reading Things Fall Apart. If this book is not in your syllabus, check it out and see if it might fit. If not, Progeny Press offers many, many more study guides that might. To read reviews about a few of them, click here or the banner below.
 


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