Saturday, March 24, 2012

Homeschoolers in Fiction - Guest Post by Beth Balmanno

Be honest: what's the first thing you think of when you hear the word homeschooler? I know, I know—probably the Duggars. But how about in books? How often do you see homeschool kids in the books you read? And, if you do see them, how are they portrayed?

As a homeschool parent, my biggest beef with fictional homeschool characters is that, quite simply, they don't feel believable to me. Most fall into three categories: the love child of some hippie, commune-living family; the troubled loner who can't handle the pressures of school and socialization; or the uber-smart child prodigy who needs more than what traditional school can offer. None of those descriptions fit my kids, or the oodles of homeschool kids my family knows. Like a regular school environment, we are a blend of all kinds of people.

We are religious, secular, rich, poor, liberal, conservative. Just like school kids. We are artists, athletes, musicians, poets, gamers, and more. Just like school kids. We have field trips, tests, gym days, extracurriculars, and dances. Just like school kids. We have crushes and fights. Just like school kids. We listen to Nicki Minaj and play on Facebook and—heaven forbid—watch Dance Moms. Just like school kids.

Like other stereotypes, ideas about homeschoolers persist, both in real life and in fiction. The real-world beliefs are disappearing, mostly because homeschooling is becoming more prevalent in mainstream society. But in books? The trend has been slower to change. There are some books out there, especially middle grade offerings. But I'm hungry for more.

Now, just so you know, I didn't set out to create and include homeschool characters in Set in Stone. I knew Valerie would go to school—one of the main settings is her very elite private school—so it wasn't like I thought, “Hey, I need to figure out a way to get a homeschool kid in this book!” But, as the story unfolded and Valerie sought help and Geoff appeared, I just knew he was going to be different. He needed a lifestyle to support being able to help her—in unusual ways. And because his personality was so strong, he needed someone else to balance him. Someone not quite so logical, someone passionate and warm and altogether different from Geoff. Fanchon, his pixie-ish homeschool friend, who knows more about auras and magic than science and SATs.

And, like a lot of her real-life counterparts, Valerie is quick to judge. Quick to dismiss them as different. A little weird.

But as the story progresses and she gets to know Geoff and Fanchon, she realizes what homeschoolers around the world have known all along.

We're just like everyone else. :)

As a homeschool mom—and author—I'm curious: do you buy into the homeschool stereotypes? Do you have homeschoolers in your life whom you call friends?

About the author:
Beth Balmanno is the author of Set in Stone. She has a BA in English from San Diego State University but freely admits she has learned more in the years after college than she ever did in school. When she isn't writing, traveling or serving as her children's chauffeur, she spends her time molding the youth of America -- as an alternative-learning educator and as a leader in scouting and 4-H. World, look out.

You can find out more about Beth Balmanno and how to connect with her on her website.

Set in Stone by Beth Balmanno
Published: February 4, 2012

Fifteen year-old Valerie is used to losing things–she lost her dad to his job ages ago and her best friend moved with no warning...and hasn't been heard from since. During a weekend camping trip with her emotionally distant parents, she stumbles upon a hidden, mysterious stone and she finds herself desperate to keep it, to possess it. Two strange and beautiful boys have other plans, however. They follow her home–Leo, warm and seductive, who covets the stone and will stop at nothing to get it; and Noel, dark-haired and wise, who pledges to protect her and keep her safe.

As she delves deeper into the magic of the stone and the Celtic lore that surrounds it, Valerie realizes that she's losing. Again. But this loss might involve more than a magical stone – this time, she just might lose her heart.


  1. As someone who was homeschooled, I'm always glad to see homeschoolers in fiction. I have to admit, I haven't read enough books to notice this trend. I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for this in the future.

    1. Hi Melanie, it doesn't keep me up at night or anything ;) but it IS something I notice, probably because I am an author AND a homeschool parent. My eldest is 13 and she is a voracious reader...and I want her to have books with characters whom she can identify with . That doesn't mean ALL books she reads should have homeschool characters -- she identifies herself as much more than a homeschooler -- but it sure would be nice to stumble across one every now and then in mainstream fiction. There is a nice little site that identifies and reviews books with homeschoolers as main or supporting characters. As a former homeschooler, you might find it interesting. :)

  2. I'm a writer and a homeschooling mom of a 7 yr old girl, and I don't think I've ever seen a fiction book or novel that included a homeschooler. As a HSing mom, I can tell you that our family definitely does not fit the homeschooling stereotypes. As a matter of fact, I have been looked down on by some middle to upper class homeschooling parents because of our socioeconomic differences. It's a sad fact, but it's true. Because of that, I only have a couple of HSing friends. We are "like everyone else", and unfortunately, that includes discrimination.

    This does look like an interesting book, and I think I'd like to check it out.

  3. I decided long before my kids were born that I would homeschool them, but they are definitely beyond their age level, possibly by as much as 2 years. They're also very rowdy, and if I were to put them in a regular school the teachers would be recommending medication for them.

    I homeschool them because I don't want them to go through what my husband and I did - failing classes because we were too bored to do the homework, even though we could pass the tests without studying. So I guess we fit the prodigy stereotype, lol.

  4. Great post, Beth! How homeschoolers are portrayed in books has long been a topic of discussion amongst my group of fellow book-loving homeschool moms. It is frustrating to see so much of the market share of new juvenile and teen books released each year be completely devoid of characters learning outside the traditional classroom setting. Or, yes, worse to see us represented with the same old, tired stereotypes instead of as the diverse group of individuals we really are. Homeschooling is simply just one of a whole amazing spectrum of learning environments that exist in the world today.

    But, like you said, there are some books and authors out there that get it right! In order to try and highlight those books, and form a united voice to remind authors and publishers that we are here (and we read--a lot!!), some of those same book-loving homeschool moms in my circle of friends started a readers’ choice book award-- the intent of highlighting some of the current kid’s lit we think might appeal to homeschoolers.

    For more reading suggestions, we also have a side blog that we use to highlight books throughout the year that we review from a homeschooler’s perspective called What We’re Reading ( We’re hoping to be part of a positive change in how homeschoolers are portrayed!


  5. The only example of homeschool characters that were "well done" would have to be on the Adventures in Odyssey CDs. It's not something that is focused upon, it's just a fact. "She's homeschooled." The character is not a stereotype like you mentioned. For this, I am so thankful. My kids hear this and are affirmed that they are "normal" and that other "normal" kids just like them are out there. =) In addition, Adventures in Odyssey does not shirk from real issues--many not black and white. They bring up "difficult" situations and my kids learn a lot from the story lines.

    Looking forward to reading your book, Beth!! =)

  6. We love books about homeschoolers too. My son likes the Jonathan Clark books on audio they are full of adventure BUT when compared to our own homeschool life. Not so believable. We have introduce books by homeschoolers to our son through the Homeschool website. It has been great. My son would like to see more boys that are homeschooled in books.

  7. With the crossover of YA literature into the adult market, I think it's just as important for adults to see that homeschooled kids are "normal." Too many adults dismiss homeschool families with the tired old stereotypes. Books like SIS can help inform them, too.

  8. I was homeschooled (back when it was considered weird and "fringe") and am now homeschooling my two boys. I hate to say it, but I encountered every stereotype listed here. I was a little puzzled by it at the time because my family was pretty "normal" aside from our educational choice to homeschool.

    When I wrote my story I decided to make the main character homeschooled because I felt I could portray her in a realistic way by drawing on my own experiences. I plopped her into a regular high school so I could give an example of what regular school might look like through the eyes of a homeschooler. Hopefully I didn't stray into any of the stereotypes!

  9. While I see what you are saying, I don't really resent homeschooling stereotypes because they can be true. I was homeschooled for part of my high school years because I was the loner kid who couldn't handle the pressures of school and socialization, as you put it.

    1. Stereotypes exist across the board, especially in school environments (Breakfast Club, anyone? :). What I wanted to point out was that not all homeschool kids fit into those few, little categories that seem to perpetually pop up when they are portrayed in fiction.

      And boy, do I hear you on the "loner kid" syndrome. My family moved around every couple of years and it was *hard* trying to carve out new friendships and find my place in an existing school environment...year after year, move after move.

  10. As the author of an adventure book about home schoolers, I am glad to read about yet another effort to include home schooled characters in fiction. With more than 2 million home schoolers in the USA, this is definitely an underserved market segment. I would like to encourage more writers to write books with home school characters. There are many children and families that would love to read such stories.



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