Ten: Staying Home for School

As homeschooling becomes more mainstream, more and more novels are depicting homeschooled kids and teens, either as main or secondary characters. While many of these novels continue to oversimplify the decision to homeschool as being broadly ideological (e.g. based on distrust of what is being taught in school on moral or political grounds), some take a more nuanced approach, often coming to the conclusion that while the classroom has benefits, homeschooling is the best choice available for this student at this time. While the benefit to homeschooled readers of seeing their own (or similar) experiences represented in fiction is somewhat mitigated by the frequency with the novels focus on the characters’ return to school, the generally positive depiction of homeschooling itself is certainly a step in the right direction.

Ida B. and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World by Kathryn Hannigan
Ida B. (not to be confused with her mom, Ida) has been homeschooled most of her life. When her mother’s cancer makes homeschooling impossible — and simultaneously requires most of her beloved orchard to be sold to pay the medical bills — Ida B. is devastated and retreats into herself, shielding herself from fear and further betrayal by building a wall of anger that soon becomes nearly impenetrable. A heartbreaking and beautiful story less about homeschooling than about a very human response to loss. Still, Hannigan believably portrays some of the strengths and weakness of both homeschooling and public school.

Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass
Ally’s parents have raised her and her brother on a campground, where the whole family has been preparing for years to welcome crowds eager to view an anticipated total solar eclipse. Both have had plenty of opportunities to explore areas of interest, but relatively little contact with people outside of the family, other than the campers who come out during the summers. Socially adept Bree has just learned that her parents will be taking over the management of the campground following the eclipse, and plan to homeschool her and her sister for the next three years, while Ally’s family returns to the city. Though neither girl is happy about the change to begin with, their interactions introduce each to the value of the other’s lifestyle.

Homeschool Liberation League by Lucy Frank
On returning from a summer at a wilderness camp, Kaitlyn (now Katya) decides that she can’t handle going to school anymore. Not only are the classes boring (“stupefying,” as she puts it), but she acts like a different person when she’s there. Most of the book is spent debating with her parents regarding whether homeschooling is a viable choice for the family. In the process, the novel presents a fairly balanced view of both the public school vs. homeschool question and the variations to be found among homeschooling families.

Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks
Following tradition in her family, Maggie switches from homeschooling to public school at the start of high school. Nervous about the change, but trusting her three older brothers to watch out for her, Maggie treks into this new world and quickly makes friends with a couple of the school’s more unusual students. Not a lot directly about homeschooling here, except perhaps a nod to a couple of its common effects: an uncertainty about some kinds of social interactions and a flexibility regarding whether and how social norms should be obeyed.

My Name is Mina by David Almond
My Name Is Mina is Mina’s journal. Alternating between explanatory entries describing how and why she left public school and descriptive entries that tell what Mina’s style of homeschooling is like, the novel offers an unusually detailed look at the development of a mind given space to explore. This is a prequel to Almond’s better-known novel, Skellig.

Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie S. Tolan
While the story begins with the all-too-familiar “free spirited parents take children out of school to avoid rules and expectations” scenario, a family project taken on halfway through the novel improves the situation greatly. Both Jake, a delinquent offered the choice of homeschooling with the Applewhites or going to juvenile hall, and E.D. Applewhite, the only non-artistic person in her family, find opportunities to explore how their own gifts fit into the community. As well, the novel demonstrates the value of E.D.’s commitment to discipline and structure even while it celebrates the freedom that homeschooling gives her to adjust her curriculum according to her circumstances.

Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen
Ambrose’s mother takes him out of school when a prank pulled by some bullies goes horribly wrong. Left alone in the evenings while his mother is at work, Ambrose develops a Scrabble-based friendship with his landlords’ son that offers both an opportunity to grow.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
August Pullman’s first day of middle school is his first day in any school. Born with significant craniofacial abnormalities, August is used to people staring. Until now his family has homeschooled him, both to give him relief from the outside world and because numerous operations and medical treatments have so far made school impractical. Wonder, narrated by several characters who influence or are influenced by August, focuses on August’s integration into school life. While not a homeschooling story per se, there is evidence throughout that his years spent at home have prepared August well for the challenges he faces.

Theodosia and the Serpent of Chaos by R.L. LaFevers
The first in a series of novels about Theodosia Throckmorton, the child of Egyptologists living at the turn of the 20th century. Gifted with the ability to detect curses on the artifacts her parents bring back to their museum, Theodosia busies herself investigating and breaking said curses, as well as with foiling plots of the more everyday sort. Theodosia is basically a self-schooler, taking advantage of her parents’ inattention to educate herself in the areas that matter to her. The result is a deep, but relatively narrow education (though the formal education available to a girl in 1906 would likely have had its own blind spots). The books include some pretty heavy supernatural goings on (the curses and Theodosia’s remedies are treated as quite real), and parents might wish to go through the books along with younger readers.

Wright on Time Series by Lisa M. Cottrell-Bentley
The Wrights have decided to take their homeschooling on the road, exploring the natural wonders of the USA one state at a time. Each short novel engages the family in a project in a different state — cave mining in Arizona, or participating in a dinosaur dig in Utah, for example — and adds another bit to an overarching mystery regarding a strange device uncovered in the first book. The stories are quite simple, probably best suited for early to mid-elementary readers, but each is full of interesting, theme-related scientific information presented naturally enough to keep the reader from feeling like the story has been sacrificed for educational value.

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