Surviving the Applewhites Book Poster Image

Surviving the Applewhites



Lighthearted tale of eccentric family's creative homeschool.

What parents need to know

Educational value

At the Applewhites' homeschool, everyone is encouraged to follow their own interests, but the only curriculum that surfaces in the story is E.D.'s self-directed Butterfly Project. However, readers might be inspired by the free-form school to think about their own learning interests and what inspires them.

Positive messages

Creativity is highly valued among the Applewhites, but even E.D., who often feels unappreciated because she "doesn’t have a creative bone in her body," finds that she has something to offer to the family's production of The Sound of Music. Though the many creative egos often battle -- sometimes even trample -- one another, ultimately everyone pulls together and respects the others' contributions.

Positive role models

E.D. is a model student who loves learning and wants to be challenged but feels inferior and overlooked because she has no artistic talent. Jake has a troubled past and enjoys making people feel uncomfortable. Each learns, with reluctant help from the other, to accept who they are and to find their places in the busy creative world of the Applewhites' home and school.


There is mention of Jake possibly burning down a school, but the rest of his reputation is only vaguely alluded to as part of his "delinquent" past.

Not applicable

Grandpa's parrot Paulie swears constantly, so when Jake starts swearing no one is much impressed and he gives it up after a while. However the actual words he uses aren't mentioned.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Jake's parents are mentioned as being in jail for growing marijuana. Early on, Jake smokes cigarettes, but as E.D. tells him, "Wit’s End is a smoke-free environment," and he is thwarted in his later efforts to smoke.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Surviving the Applewhites, a 2004 Newbery Honor winner, features a protagonist who has been sent to attend the Applewhites' Creative Academy due to his bad behavior. Jake has been kicked out of many schools; he smokes, has reputedly set fire to a school, swears constantly (but the words he says are not mentioned), has scarlet spiked hair and various piercings, and his parents are said to be in jail for growning marijuana. However, he doesn't show much of this behavior once he starts attending the Applewhites' school, and his attempts to smoke are thwarted. As E.D. tells him, "Wit’s End is a smoke-free environment."

Parents say

Not yet rated
Review this title!

What's the story?

Twelve-year-old E.D Applewhite wasn't too happy when her father decided she and her siblings should be homeschooled at their own Creative Academy in rural North Carolina. She's even less happy when Jake, a troubled youth who's been kicked out of too many schools to count, shows up to join them. In alternating narratives, E.D. tells of her struggles to fit in with her own family while Jake tries to figure out how best to annoy the Applewhites. Despite their initial resistance, however, E.D. and Jake get drawn into the riotous family drama -- both emotional and literal -- as E.D.'s volatile father enlists everyone's help in his production of The Sound of Music.

Is it any good?


From the terminally optimistic poetess Aunt Lucille to E.D's brother Hal, Surviving the Applewhites is chock-full of delightful eccentric characters. 

The banner in the Applewhites' schoolroom reads, "Education is an adventurous quest for the meaning of life, involving an ability to think things through." The rest of the Applewhites embrace this motto wholeheartedly as they pursue their many creative interests, but E.D. and new student Jake have their own reasons to be skeptical. E.D. and Jake serve as two more grounded lenses through which to view the creative commotion of the family, but the real fun occurs as they each gradually lose their objectivity and get sucked into the whirlwind on their own terms.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how everyone in this book has a passion, even E.D., although hers is not typical of the rest of the Applewhites'. What's your passion? Is it creative or something else?

  • The Applewhites' school life is unusual in that the children get to choose what they want to study. Do you think you would enjoy this, or would you miss the lack of structure, as E.D. does?

  • If you got to choose your own subjects to study in school, what would you choose?

Book details

Author:Stephanie S. Tolan
Genre:Family Life
Topics:Brothers and sisters, Friendship, Misfits and underdogs, Music and sing-along
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:January 1, 2002
Number of pages:216
Publisher's recommended age(s):10 - 14
Award:Newbery Medal and Honors

This review of Surviving the Applewhites was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

Top advice and articles

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Kid, 11 years old August 15, 2012

Not bad...

great book, got a bit bored but a bit interested in a few parts.
Kid, 11 years old May 21, 2012

Good Book

At first the main character is mouthy and smokes cigarettes. But throughout the story he lightens up a lot.
What other families should know
Great messages
Kid, 11 years old August 14, 2013

No wonder this book won the Newbery

Language is referred to, not spoken directly. This book rocks! Middle school even made it our summer reading book because of its... greatness! I love the descriptions of the Applewhite family and especially the youngest- named Destiny. You almost go "Awww" because the visual is so good and you can picture him in your mind! I highly recommend this book, a really cute story! If you're a boy though don't worry it's not super 'girly' or anything. The "drinking drugs and smoking" category isn't an issue at all. Here is the best part: one older member of the Applewhite actually stomps on cigarettes and they all discourage smoking too. Awesome message!
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking