Unschooling: The Life-Changing Potential of a Good Book

Creating book lists is one of my favorite types of posts. Our family is made up of avid readers, and I believe in the life-changing potential of a good book. So here is a list of some of the fiction/fantasy books that have made the biggest impacts on us- making us think about the world in different ways and see it through different eyes

The Once and Future King, by T.H. White

To avoid confusion, the book by this name is actually a compilation of the first four books in the series by the same name, something the publisher’s claim was the original wish of the author. In any case, it is widely considered one of the foremost classics in King Arthur literature. Like any classic, it seamlessly weaves brilliant humor with rich, evocative writing, all the raucous action any fantasy reader could ask for, and something else- a touch of deep wisdom that reminds me a bit of some of the few Buddhist monks I have come across- a gentle, childlike love of the world and all of its endless possibilities, that I believe will stick with any tween or adult who has what it takes to digest this rather mammoth volume.

Out of my Mind, by Sharon Draper

This book is completely different than the others on this list, and completely different from any others my kids have read. In fact, I don’t know if there’s another book like this anywhere. Written in the first person from the perspective of an eleven-year-old girl who has Cerebral Palsy. Though her body is uncooperative, her mind is sharp, and she experiences a great deal of frustration over not being able to communicate her thoughts. She is initially placed in a “special needs” class and is maddeningly bored and frustrated at the simplistic lessons and degrading way she’s treated. When eventually she’s given a computer that lets her communicate with the world, her life improves greatly, but she is still stumped by the prejudice of those who judge her by her condition alone. My son was blown away by this book, as it successfully caused him to think about people and situations in life he may never have, or in a more in-depth way than he would have. He’s even developed an infatuation (for the time being at least) with the idea of becoming a doctor, all due to this book!

People of the Sparks, by Jeanne Dupru

This is actually the second in a four-book series, and we read it as part of a curriculum we “dabble in”. Set in a “post-apocalyptic” world, it is unique in this genre, I feel, because of the in-depth way that human behavior and social structures are analyzed. The people of Sparks have been subsisting in a desert environment for 200 years, since the “Great Wars”. When strange humans suddenly appear from underground- the people of The City of Ember, the title of the first book- and begin to rely on them for survival, their village is torn apart with prejudice and fear that there is not enough to support the newcomers. A thought-provoking book about an extremely trying, though entirely feasible situation-especially in this world of unprecedented refugee numbers.

Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card

This is the second book in the classic Enders Saga series, and possibly the most intense, in terms of hard academic reading. It takes place 3,000 years after the Great Wars of the first book and the main character, Ender Wiggins, has become hard to classify being known as The Speaker for The Dead. On the eave of another galactic genocide, he must find a way to explain the truth about war and all of its horrifying consequences. Less an action-packed epic than a deeply penetrating philosophical exploration of the human condition and critique of timeless challenges such as fear, xenophobia and racial violence- this book is not a light read, but it may be one of the most important ones you or your tween encounters, as it has the ability to stay with the reader for a lifetime.

The Integral Trees, by Larry Niven

I was introduced to this book in my 20’s, and it had such a powerful effect on me that I recently listened to the audiobook with my twins, who were 11 at the time. It is actually the second book in a trilogy called The State, though neither I nor my kids have read the other two. There is something about this book that is just so wonderfully original and appealing- perhaps I”m afraid to ruin it with another that might not measure up! (but I also may be missing out). The story is set in a part of the universe called “The Smoke Ring”, a region of low gravity where planetary debris forms a floating orbit around a neutron star. Within this field there is a variety of life adapted to thrive with almost no gravity- continue free fall. The characters in the story live on an Integral Tree- a massive floating tree- and manage life with a complex system of climbing ropes and other adaptations. The setting is rather whimsical and the society largely peaceful, though like any good sci-fi there are always, dangers lurking around the next corner, and in this case, it is the Orwellian society their ancestors escaped from that is the biggest threat.

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