my search for the great homeschooled novel

Back around 2011, when I bought an up-to-date Guide to Literary Agents and did market research while sincerely believing I could sell a middle grade book despite my utter distance from the literary market, I read that there was a gap in the market for book about homeschooled kids.

As a homeschooling grad, I thought (and still think) I could fill that gap. But not right now; right now, I don't know what the Great Homeschooled Novel looks like. I'll probably be fumbling towards that as I continue to write, for adults as well as for kids.

There are a couple of things that resonated with me as a homeschooled grad, and I feel like these influences will bring me closer to figuring out how to portray the experience:

  • Where the Red Fern Growswhich struck me as a kid as familiar and vivid and adventurous, same as it would strike any other kid, right? There is a scene where the wild boy protagonist comes face-to-face with a normal schoolboy from town, and someting in that scene make me realize that I was the wild boy and not the schoolboy.
  • Captain Fantastic, which I had been dying to see since it came out but have watched only recently. Based on the childhood of the director Matt Ross, the family in the movie has a particularly White Anarchist back-to-nature philosophy, but so much of it rings so true to my life. It would be easier to list the differences:
    • That we were seven siblings, not six
    • That my dad plays flute and drums, never bagpipes
    • That our mobile home wasn't a renovated bus named Steve, but a brougham of some sort
    • That my dad doesn't make fun of christians, not that much
    • That my dad would never buy us knives (wth?)
    • That we didn't celebrate Santa OR Noam but Ramadan
    • Oh, and my mom is still alive
  • The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which I haven't seen yet. I know the show covers themes of innocence/shelteredness that I am afraid I will relate too strongly. In my mind, the set-up is too close to the narratively-ironic innocence of Room, which gets way into the darker side of seculsion from society, way into abuse and neglect. I haven't seen that either, and don't really want to...
  • Similarly, Dancer in the Dark, and the rest of Lars Von Trier's Golden Heart Trilogy. The sweetness/darkness of Dancer in the Dark resulted in it being the only movie that's ever made me cry. Having Bjork portray an immigrant who believes in Broadway musicals but gets screwed over by America is just too cruel. I haven't seen the others in this trilogy, but I got into his unfinished American Trilogy through Dogville, which smacked the martyr out of me and also killed me a bit. (It was a good idea to watch them both entering the nonprofit world! 🙂)
  • On a lighter note, I loved The Wild Thornberries, or anything else where the kids live in an RV and learn from books and nature but not teachers. That show gets special bonus points because Nigel Thornberry's job is the one I once wanted. (RIP Steven Irwin, forever love and admiration for you and your wife and your kid 💙) This was one of the few kids cartoons I could watch not set in a school, but there should be more. I like to think the lack is what drove me to anime like Pokemon, which featured preteens running wild, free of all institutions, and learning about fauna and flora.
  • I occasionally read up about the Quiverfull movement, although I have been shy of watching or reading too much about the Duggars or Jon + Kate, because of all the hate aimed at them. A lot of the homeschool movement is Christian, though, so I'm obligated to know about them as well as the anti-establishment hippies, I guess.
  • Speaking of hippies, Sufjan Stevens, but also anything related to Wardorf schoolsMontessori schools, or other kinds of alternative education. Since I really don't know how to portray school in fiction, I really have no choice but to set my child characters in settings where they have more choice, freedom, or democracy in how they learn. Oh well.
  • Anything Jaden And Willow Do Or Say Or Think Or Make Or Sing, on a similar weird-schooling note.
  • And last but not least, J. D. Salinger's Glass family stories. I can't and won't say too much about how this series affected me for fear of spoiling an upcoming project, but I know me and my siblings bonded over this series. It's already providing me a roadmap for how to write my life.