No, Essentials itself is not a literature program; however, you can add on the Essentials Reader Set if you would like to incorporate reading comprehension with Essentials.
Essentials teaches many skills that help with comprehension. The Essentials lessons build a strong foundation of basic literacy skills and accurate linguistic knowledge, teaching students the tools they need to decode and encode English words and think critically about their meaning and why they are written the way they are. In addition to teaching the linguistic tools of written English and how to use them for reading and spelling, the lessons also teach morphology (how roots and affixes work together in English words) and basic grammar in order to further strengthen students' ability to comprehend English on a word and sentence level. In this way Essentials strengthens students' reading skills and equips them for success in reading and spelling throughout life. However, reading comprehension work is not included within Essentials.
Adding the Essentials Reader
If a student is struggling with reading, use the Essentials Reader alongside Essentials. This optional reading comprehension supplement provides engaging, phonics-controlled reading passages for every Essentials lesson that are designed to build the confidence and meet the interests and intellectual level of older students.
Since struggling readers are often discouraged and frustrated with reading, we recommend allowing these students to study literature through audio books, reading aloud, discussion, and the Essentials Reader for a time. Do not require them to read other books until they gain the confidence and decoding skills to want to read other grade-level texts and to be able to do so successfully. (This happens at different points for different students, but we find that most struggling readers begin to take off in reading and pick up other books voluntarily somewhere between lessons 20 and 30 of Essentials.)
The Essentials Reader is also appropriate for main classroom instruction for students in 3rd or 4th grade. It includes a variety of engaging fiction and nonfiction texts, and the Essentials Reader Teacher's Guide and Student Activity Book provide a wealth of comprehension, composition, and handwriting activities to go with them.
For students who are already reading comfortably at or close to grade level, Essentials can be paired with any literature program of your choice.
The Essentials Reader is a good option to consider for 3rd or 4th grade, but other programs that are not phonics-controlled are fine as well for students who are already confident readers.
Most older students who are strong readers will do better with another age-appropriate literature curriculum, though they might also enjoy many of the texts in the second half of the Essentials Reader. (We enjoy them... they are very interesting, and by about Lesson 12 it is almost impossible to tell that they are phonics controlled at all!)