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Holly Van Houten

Students will receive instruction from Holly Van Houten, who has decades of experience preparing young writers with the skills they need to succeed. In addition to teaching Literature and Writing at The Huckleberry Center for Creative Learning, in Valencia, California since 2009, Holly taught in the USC Freshman Writing Department for 10 years, while completing her Ph.D. coursework in English and American Literature.  Holly has also taught in the English departments at Pepperdine University, California State University, Northridge, and California State University, Long Beach. She has helped young scholars become confident writers for over 30 years and has successfully prepared students of all abilities for college-level writing. 

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High School World Literature

Live/Online Class


This class will cover a variety of World literature, including novels, plays, poems, short stories, essays, and speeches. Students will have a chance to explore wonderful works of literature with their peers. As we explore the historical context of various geographical regions, we will focus on themes and literary forms that will allow students to grasp the relationship between local concerns and universal questions. They will have an opportunity to exchange ideas and exercise their critical thinking skills, while enjoying imaginative literature that will stay with them forever!


In the Fall Quarter, our theme will be “TRANSFORMATIONS” – We will begin in ancient Rome, looking at the mythological transformations of “Echo and Narcissus” and “Apollo & Daphne,” stories from Ovid’s epic poem, Metamorphosis, before jumping almost two millennia to look at the short story, “The Metamorphosis,” by the 20th Century French existentialist, Franz Kafka, which tells the sad tale of a man who transforms into a “monstrous verminous bug.”  We’ll continue with our look at monstrous physical transformations as we wander with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein through the Scottish Orkney Islands to the far reaches of the Arctic, and all through Europe, including Bavaria, Switzerland, and the French Alps before moving on to explore the emotional transformation of the main character in A Doll’s House, a classic from the Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen. Moving to Africa, we will read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and witness the cultural transformation of a Nigerian tribe under the influence of British colonialism. We will then return to the ancient world of Greece to wrap up the Fall Quarter, reading the “Apologia of Socrates,” by Plato. Throughout the Fall Quarter, students will also explore the metaphysical poetry of John Donne, analyzing his many poems of transformation through weekly poem analysis projects. By the end of the quarter, students will certainly grasp the transformative power of literature and will have developed insight into the dramatic outward and inward transformations that make up everyday life all over the world.


In the Winter Quarter, our theme will be “Solitude & Alienation.” We will begin in Russia with Anton Chekov’s “The Bet,” which asks the question:  Which is more humane – the death penalty or a solitary life, isolated in prison?  Leo Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” will deepen our discussion of alienation by exploring the loneliness and isolation one can feel even when surrounded by others.  We’ll then move in a westerly direction, without adding even a hint of optimism, towards Great Britain, the setting for our first full novel for the Winter Quarter: Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Has there ever been a heroine more alone and abandoned? And what about that madwoman in the attic? We will consider the hardships Jane endures in solitude and the consolations she eventually finds. T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” will provide us with an opportunity to work with peers to present analyses of various sections of this complex poetic study of the modern man’s tortured psyche. Student groups will work together to prepare and deliver an oral presentation on their assigned section of Eliot’s dramatic monologue. We will then visit Cuba as we read Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and Sea and spend time contemplating how to persevere through suffering and hardship as we spend three days alone with a fisherman in the ocean. Hemingway may be American, but his writing is informed by his status as a world traveler. We’ll then contrast Hemingway’s analysis of how to find meaning in life with Albert Camus’ existential novel, The Stranger, which looks at the meaninglessness and futility of existence. His main character, an Algerian named Meursault, is alienated from society because he contradicts and challenges societal expectations. By the end of the quarter, students will understand literature as a powerful way to explore meaningful questions on one’s own and as a community of readers. We will also use this quarter’s thematic exploration to practice putting together a longer essay. Instead of three 4-5-page essays, this quarter, students will complete one longer, 10-page essay, which they will work on weekly inside and outside of class, adding a page or more each week.


In the Spring Quarter, our theme will be “THE CONSOLATION OF PHILOSOPHY.” Our reading for this quarter will explore how different cultures approach or attempt to explain human existence. We will begin with Leo Tolstoy’s “The Three Questions,” which asks readers to consider what we should do, when we should do it, and who we should do it with. We will follow this with two more short stories. The first, by Ursula Le Guin, asks readers to weigh the hidden costs of prosperity and peace; the second, by Jorge Luis Borges, asks readers to consider the value of wisdom in a library that contains every book possible. This story will serve as a wonderful transition to Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha. Originally written in German, this is a story of one man’s search for meaning, enlightenment, and fulfillment. It is a novel that explores the entangling nature of material possessions and questions whether words have the ability to communicate the deepest truths about existence. By this point in the quarter, we will definitely be in the mood for some laughs, which we’ll enjoy as we romp through the countryside accompanied by Voltaire’s naively optimistic Candide, hoping to experience the “best of all possible worlds.” Our search for the meaning of life through all possible worlds will conclude with the guidance every wise traveler packs: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” by Douglas Adams. Don’t be fooled by the delightfully entertaining nature of this novel. It will wrap up many of the themes we will have discussed all year, including the possibility of insights into the human condition offered by philosophy, art, culture, language, politics, science, psychology, etc.  Bring your towel – you’ll need it! Throughout the Spring, students will also explore philosophical ideas through the beautiful and often challenging poetry of Emily Dickinson. Dickinson too acknowledges language’s interpretive limitations and creates new poetic forms to investigate the intellectual and moral issues that intrigue her the most.


The Writing Process will also be a central focus in this course, as students apply their creative and analytical thinking to these marvelous works of literature.  Students will not only have an opportunity to express their ideas, argue their opinions and demonstrate their understanding in our class discussions, but they will also organize, develop and argue those ideas in their writing.  In addition to longer, academic essays, students will participate in weekly online Online Discussion Forums and develop their own critical discussion questions to help them organize their responses to the literature we read. Through oral presentations, in-class essays, short reader-responses, and speeches, students will have many opportunities to hone and practice their communication skills. Students will also learn research techniques and MLA documentation as they develop their persuasive, analytical, expository and descriptive writing skills.  As students practice their writing skills, they will simultaneously build their understanding of vocabulary, grammar, syntax, punctuation and the conventions of formal writing. 


In this class, we will be implementing technology to help us work on the Writing Process. Our classes will take place each week through live, interactive, and engaging online sessions, and we will utilize a variety of tools to enhance our classroom discussions and encourage collaboration (breakout rooms, polls/quizzes, Online Discussion Forum questions, video access, and screen sharing for our intensive essay revision sessions). The Zoom video platform will allow us to meet like a regular classroom for lecture and discussion purposes as we immerse ourselves in wonderful literature and the process of writing literary analysis essays. The class will also utilize Google Classroom for assignments, Online Discussion Forums, and work-sharing both during class sessions and outside of class. Taking advantage of the incredible, collaborative power of Google Docs will allow us to share ideas and revision techniques far more efficiently. This class will be a great opportunity to enjoy some wonderful literature and practice essential literary analysis and writing skills.


This course meets A-G Course Requirements as outlined by the UC system. We aim to cover the course standards and UC requirements for A-G credit per the requirements of multiple California Charter School Guides. However, it is the responsibility of the family & student to compare our syllabi with their charter school’s outlines to determine if there is any additional learning that should be done. All work should be shared with the charter school for their review. Please remember that your charter school is ultimately responsible for assigning grades, although we are always happy to provide suggested grades for work done in our classes.


NOTE:  There are no Materials Fees for this class, but parents must purchase the required books for their students. Holly will provide Amazon Purchase Links for the chosen edition of each. 


Holly Van Houten

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