Surviving the Applewhites

Common Sense Media says

Lighthearted tale of eccentric family's creative homeschool.

Age(i)

2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17

Quality(i)

 
Newbery Medal and Honors

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.

Violence

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.

Sex
Not applicable
Language

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.

Consumerism
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

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Kids say

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?

QUALITY
 

The banner in the Applewhite's 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. From the terminally optimistic poetess Aunt Lucille to E.D's brother Hal, who's so absorbed in his painting that he only comes out of his room to raid the refrigerator when everyone's asleep, Surviving the Applewhites is chock full of delightful eccentric characters. 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.

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Quality

Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Kid, 11 years old August 14, 2013
AGE
8
QUALITY
 

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
Kid, 11 years old May 21, 2012
AGE
12
QUALITY
 

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 15, 2012
AGE
10
QUALITY
 

Not bad...

great book, got a bit bored but a bit interested in a few parts.

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