Review: Progeny Press ‘The Silver Chair’ E-Guide

I have always loved reading, and I’m thrilled that the girls have picked up on that as well (to the point of uselessness sometimes, as they read and lounge amidst all the chores that have to be done—but that’s a completely different post). One thing that I never really did though was dig deeper into books, analyze the themes. I suppose I attempted to that effect back in high school, with the required book reports, but it didn’t really stick.

When the opportunity to review the study guides from Progeny Press came up, I was intrigued. They have guides for books from first grade to high school, but we chose the e-guide for The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis. Raine had read the Narnia series several times over, so I figured that this guide would help us develop habits that would make reading more meaningful.

Silver Chair - E-Guide
The note to the instructor at the beginning of the guide validates my objective: Progeny Press study guides are designed to help students better understand and enjoy literature by getting them to notice and understand how authors craft their stories and to show them how to think through the themes and ideas introduced in the stories.

Raine, Breeze, and I all love writing stories, so aside from appreciating the undercurrents of each book, we were looking forward (OK, I was) to learning how to ‘craft stories’. It’s related to something I always tell the girls—and to quote watch brand Audemars Piguet’s slogan—to break the rules, you first must master them.  

What it is and how it works

Progeny Press publishes study guides for popular books for lower and upper elementary, middle school, and high school, available as either print books, or e-books. Some of the e-books are interactive, meaning you can answer directly on the PDF file (which I love, since I’m such a tightwad when it comes to printing). They have guides for classics like Frog and Toad Together, Charlotte’s Web, Jane Eyre, and A Wrinkle in Time, as well as books like The Hunger Games and The Hobbit.

As we went through The Silver Chair e-guide, we worked on sections on vocabulary; comprehension questions; the ‘Thinking About the Story’ section, which breaks down the ‘craft’ part of the story—we covered writing tools like foreshadowing and asides, the use of imagery and humor, and setting  the mood; ‘Understanding the Story,’ which covers specific words that may be encountered only in the setting of the story, such as fauns and satyrs; and the ‘Dig Deeper’ section, which tackles the story from a Biblical perspective. There are also optional activities and discussions at the end of every chapter.

The author recommends working on a guide page a day, until the sections in each guide chapter are complete. Each guide chapter covers about two chapters of the book. Each guide comes with an answer key.  

Our experience: a quick rundown

Raine sped through the vocabulary exercises. In our interactive version, some of the exercises include a dropdown list that you can choose the answers from, which she adored. The rest of the guide, though, needed some prodding so she would not default to almost monosyllabic, superficial answers. For example, one of the first questions asked what you know about Experiment House, and why the school was named such. All Raine answered was “because they sort of experiment on them.” Which is technically correct, but doesn’t really say anything. I had to ask her to expound on some of her answers.

The Dig Deeper section, which correlates the events and characters in the story with biblical readings, is what sets Progeny Press study guides apart. The questions presented, along with the Bible verses, directs you to a Biblical perspective. For example, the guide helps relate John 14:16 to the scene where Aslan the Lion invites Jill to quench her thirst at the stream beside him, and that there is no other stream. The scene alludes to the fact that there is no other way into heaven except through Jesus.

Sample of the vocabulary exercises, with a dropdown list of options. Not sure how this will work out when printed.

Of course, it’s easy to relate the Narnia novels to the Bible, given that C.S. Lewis is known for his Christian writings. So I checked Frog and Toad Together and The Hunger Games, which are secular books. In the first, on the chapter dealing with Frog and Toad trying not to eat all the cookies, the verse was on temptation (1Corintihians 10:13), and the discussion was about how God can help you resist temptation. In one chapter of Hunger Games, Katniss lies to Peeta about going to the feast, and the verses given opens the discussion on lying.

We also had to take it slow working on the Thinking About the Story sections. I taught a small group of girls (Raine included) creative writing last year, and a few of the techniques that we covered in class were also discussed in the guide (and it was great to show Raine that see, Mommy did not make these things up). Raine knew similes, hyperboles, and metaphors, for example. But we had to discuss foreshadowing (we still need to flesh out this concept a bit more). I also had her skip over the questions on motif, comic relief, and mood, as I wanted to tackle this in more detail, with other examples. I also wanted her to try writing using those techniques.

Given our slow pace through the guide, we haven’t reached the Overview section yet, which I love. This part shows Freytag’s Pyramid, which graphically illustrates the build-up and let down of a story. It lists the different types of conflicts that are encountered in good stories. It also tackles theme, antagonists and protagonists.

The guide ends with After-You-Read activities, which include creative writing assignments and art and design projects, both of which are up Raine’s alley. These, I think, are activities that she would look forward to.

What we liked and what was so-so

This was not easy material to go through, because it forces you to stop and think. Really, really think. You will do yourself a disservice if you just go for the superficial answers (which I still must convince Raine of). I am so glad for the provided answer key, because sometimes, the questions stump me too. Like I said, thinking deeply about the stories is not something I’m used to. Raine, Breeze and I tend to zip through our reading. I like that the guide fosters deeper understanding of the material.

I also enjoyed the review of literary techniques and writing tools. I am definitely pulling out snippets from the guide for any future writing classes. Raine obviously loved the vocabulary parts—I think she liked the interactive feature the most. I also liked the Understanding the Story vocabulary exercises; they added more depth to both the study and the rereading of the story.

Finally, I appreciate the way the guide, well, guides you to a biblical perspective. The Hubby and I try our best to relate the Bible to daily life, and I am hoping that seeing biblical principles applied to her favorite fiction stories will make the Bible come more alive for Raine.

The only point that will make me think twice (or thrice) about getting other guides (Raine is asking for The Hunger Games and The Giver) is the price. The average prices range from $17.99 to $18.99 (Hunger Games is $21.99). I suppose this is a reasonable price, given the quality of the material, but it still is not an impulse buy kind of thing.

The verdict

The fact that Raine wants to try the other study guides—despite the fact that I have forced her to think beyond her minimal effort answers—is testament to the likability of the guides (not just by mommy!). I would highly recommend any of the e-guides from Progeny Press.


Other families have tried some of the other Progeny Press guides. Read about their experiences by clicking below.

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