Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie S. Tolan

The Bottom Line
The theme of this book is the metamorphosis of people. The two main characters experience great individual changes while the entire family experiences a change. Appropriate ages: 12 – 14 year olds
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Pros
• Values all artistic and academic talents
• Maybe used for family read-aloud to include upper elementary
• Shows people can choose to change who they are in a positive way
• Unconventional family structure and interactions
• No violent or sexual content

Cons
• The father is critical of the public school
• Stereotypical characters
• All children from preschool through teenagers have very little supervision
• Initially, everyone is involved in individual, isolated pursuits
• Not a well-rounded, homeschool curriculum

Description
• Appropriate for young teens and tweens
• An unconventional family helps a young, troubled teen find himself
• All the main characters undergo some form of positive transformation
• The family is initially chaotic but later comes together as a unit

Kristine’s Review – Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie S. Tolan
The author highlights the metamorphosis that occurs in middle school while valuing different talents. Jake comes to the Applewhite’s homeschool as a troubled, young teen trying to find himself. The young teen girl, E.D., is the only organized person in her extended family of creative people and feels undervalued and odd. Through the course of events, both of these characters experience great change and come to value themselves. Jake’s is obvious, while E.D.’s is more subtle. Meanwhile, the entire family undergoes a change from individual pursuits to a collective focus.

Family Reading Suggestions
Read this one simultaneously with your young teen. Maybe set aside an evening or two each week for independent reading and book club-esque discussions. Find a night that is usually free from other commitments or interesting television programs. Or read-aloud the book with the whole family, from 10 – 14 year old children. This is not the time to quiz them on facts, but a sharing of each other’s thoughts on the text. Let your children guide some of the discussion, too, and talk about what struck them in the story. Some ideas to get you started: What were their first impressions of Jake and E.D.? Of the Creative Academy? Whatever your family’s schooling choice, discuss the pros and cons of homeschooling. Discuss how the Applewhite family solves problems compared to how your family solves problems.

Beyond the Book

  • Talk with your family about the metamorphosis your children have gone through from intermediate grades to middle school. How have their friends, interests, talents, and abilities changed? What do they think they might change again in high school, college, or trade school? Explore traits they hope to adopt and those they think they want to avoid. Guide them to be the person they want to become, but remain flexible if their ideals change as they mature.
  • Have open and ongoing discussions about how and what your children learn at school (whatever the setting). Many academic courses only survey the content with deeper learning occurring through independent and group projects. Encourage your child to explore more deeply any topics they find interesting. For example, if a science class on the basics of botany piqued her interest, help your daughter plan and conduct experiments in the family garden. Likewise, if your son enjoyed learning to use acrylic paints in art class, set up a corner as a home studio with a variety of paints and surfaces.
  • The book values self-directed learning. Individually, or as a family, learn in depth about something new. This means, as the learners, you get to choose what to learn, how you will explore it, how much you want to learn about it, and what you will do with your new knowledge. Maybe you want to learn more about space exploration through reading biographies from astronauts, viewing webcasts from NASA, reading mission log-books, visiting a museum exhibit, building model space ships, or even going to space camp!
  • Talk about your family’s passions or discover a new passion together. Maybe your family is into day hiking. Work together to explore guide books, gather equipment, and take weekend or week long back packing trips.

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