I loved Jonathan Bean’s children’s book Building Our House, so when I saw his new book at the library, This Is My Home, This Is My School, I checked it out immediately, especially with the added inducement that it was about homeschooling. Both books are about Bean’s own family. All of the familiar characters from the other book are there, and it is fun to revisit the house we saw built in the first book! Since few modern books portray kids doing school at home (although plenty of classic kid’s books have them doing their lessons there), I was hoping this book would fill an empty niche. How well did it do? Here are the things that stood out to me:
Book Review: This is My Home, This is My School
This book is illustrated in a slightly looser style than Building Our House, though in similar color scheme. I think that style set the tone of overall chaos in each scene, but specific details contributed, too–papers all over the floor, stuff spilling. This was probably deliberate and an accurate portrayal of family life and the busyness of homeschooling, but at the same time, it drove me a little crazy. I think it distracts from his portrayal of the rich, varied, hands-on experiences of his schooling experience. The sense of order in our home/school is far from perfect, but this felt a little over the top. When my kids saw Bean’s real family photos at the end of the book, they said, “But it isn’t really a mess!”
The World is Our Classroom
Bean says, “We have a lot of classrooms” and shows the family cooking in the kitchen, doing science experiments outside, and so on, in addition to doing more traditional academic studies. I like this a lot, especially as illustrated by Bean’s note at the end, “…No moment, whether at desk, dinner table, stream, play, or work, was too insignificant to be scavenged for something to learn.” Part of what we love about homeschooling is how learning never ends, how we are able to make connections between subjects and between book learning and “real” life. (Of course, this can and should be done with any kind of schooling, and no doubt often is. But when you are the teacher, you’re especially aware of what they’ve been learning in class.)
Who is this book for?
My kids said they loved the book, “all of it”, but I don’t think they were struck by the fact that it was about home schoolers because, after all, that really is their everyday life. They didn’t find anything about it remarkable, except that they did mention the mess. My kids didn’t know what a cafeteria was, and they’ve never had a substitute teacher as such (although the exhausted Mom calling for reinforcements was familiar enough!) So although they enjoyed it, it didn’t feel like it was really written with them in mind.
The whole book is built on parallels to “regular” school, making non-homeschoolers, who would be more familiar with such things, seem like the target audience; if it’s meant to be an explanation of homeschooling to others outside of it, I’m not sure it succeeds. When Bean calls a bedtime story “English class” or describes the Bean family’s desperate collecting of pamphlets for their portfolios, I fear he is reinforcing negative ideas about homeschoolers. On the other hand, I think he means to balance that with the scheduled assignments in each subject for each child that appear at the beginning and end, as if to say, “Yes, we really are doing school. We just also are able to incorporate it with/apply it to daily life.” Furthermore, Jonathan Bean, homeschooler, went on to earn a graduate degree and become a successful writer, so there’s something for the naysayers. I also do appreciate that art class and phys. ed. show the Beans interacting with other kids. Homeschooling shouldn’t be about hiding under a rock.
Although I didn’t love this book as much as the first one, it was a fun read with the kids and worth checking out. Let me know what you think of it!