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Surviving the Applewhites
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on November 6, 2002
Format: Library Binding
This is a good hearted book that follows the transformation of Jake, incipient hoodlum, to Jake, possible actor/singer in a believable gradual series of extenuating circumstances. The humor rests on the interesting and very individualistic ways the various residents of the Creative Academy go about their daily lives, making Jake, with his spiked hair and many earrings seem almost normal.
A sub-plot also follows E.D., one of the daughters of the family in her quest to organize her life and NOT be as hair-brained as the rest of her family. She, too, discovers that her talents are valued, even if they are not in the artistic domain.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2005
Format: Paperback
This is one of my favorite books I've read in a while! This book really made me think about myself and the others around me! It gives you a new way of thinking of life. In the story Jake Semple, a child who wasn't the best child and got into a lot of trouble. Jake finds a new way of looking at life when he goes to school at the Applewhites home. He realizes that his appearance doesn't matter to them and they look at him just as any other student. He realizes that he doesn't need his "bad boy" appearance anymore. He realizes that Theatre was what he enjoyed to do and wanted to do it his whole entire lifetime! He really turns himself around and becomes his true self! this is one of my favorite books of all time! I reccomend it to EVERYONE!
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
There's a whole genre of children's literature that can be best categorized as Crazy/Artistic Family books. Since the publication of Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth's, "Cheaper By the Dozen" (and possibly before that book as well) kids have enjoyed reading about large crazy families and their occasional sad sane members. "Surviving the Applewhites" bounds gleefully into the ring to grab a little of this genre-glory and it's done pretty well for itself. It garnered a 2003 Newbery Honor. It's on countless Summer Reading lists around the country each year. You'd never know that it was a knock-off, would you? The fact of the matter is, "Surviving the Applewhites" is just a slightly contemporized version of Helen Cresswell's 1977 classic children's book, "Ordinary Jack". Though it certainly has some nice ideas and nice moments, "Applewhites" is doomed to be remembered as the Newbery Honor winner that copied a better book, from its dog to its fire-loving preschooler.

Jake Semple is a mean kid. A mean spiked hair kid. A mean spiked hair, multiple earrings, swear at authority figures, wear black clothing kid. He's been kicked out of every school he's ever gone to until finally he's ended up on the Applewhites' farm. The Applewhites are neighbors of Jake's grandfather (the last person the boy was dumped into the care of) and they're a bit... well.... a bit peculiar. All the adults have amazing artistic talents, while the kids are developing their own particular styles in a kind of free-form classroom. In the midst of this chaos is E.D. Applewhite, Jake's peer and an overly organized kid. She doesn't trust Jake for one little moment, but the fact of the matter is that there are larger issues hanging over her head. E.D. can't stand the loosey-goosey nature of the family. She's not artistically talented so she feels left out of things. It's only when her father ropes the entire family into helping with his production of "The Sound of Music" (with Jake as a lead) that E.D. and company learn how to best utilize their talents in a way that the world can really enjoy.

There are nice things in the book. Author Stephanie Tolan does wonderful things with butterflies here. Throughout the story, E.D. and Jake work on projects involving butterflies, culminating with Jake's idea to hatch some black swallowtails in the home. The result are butterflies that live with no fear of humans and become sort of family pets (an adorable idea). It's a bit of a stretch to imagine that E.D.'s father's idea of colorblind casting "The Sound of Music" would be considered groundbreaking, but it works within the context of the story. Children's books love colorblind casting musicals anyway (as in "Amazing Grace" by Mary Hoffman which did the same thing with "Peter Pan").

The book is very nice if you haven't read any of the Bagthorpe books (like "Ordinary Jack"). If you have though, you're in trouble. Consider the similarities. In "Ordinary Jack", Jack is the only normal member of his crazy/artistic family and so he and his dog Zero interact with his demanding writer father, adorable blond firebug of a preschool cousin, and others to find out what makes him special. In "Surviving the Applewhites", E.D. is the only normal member of her crazy/artistic family and so she and the family dog Winston (who loves Jack) interact with her demanding director father, adorable blond firebug of a brother, and others to find out what makes her special. Oog.

Jake himself is an odd sort. He doesn't do anything even slightly delinquent aside from swearing once in a while and smoking cigarettes. High crimes indeed. His appearance is that of a punk, a fact that would have shocked other kids in 1977, perhaps. Here, it's rather quaint. He's like a throwback to an earlier innocent age. If he had tried to look like Marilyn Manson he probably would've ended up a far more believable character. After all, what kid today goes about spiking his hair anymore?

Also, the book commits one particular crime that I am loathe to forgive and forget. The aforementioned adorable preschooler is named Destiny (kill me now) and randomly speaks with an affected cuteness that is supposed to melt readers' hearts. Instead, it only succeeds in inspiring jaw-dropping disbelief that any author would stoop so low. Destiny is prone to sentences about his hair like, "Mine just growed. My hair's blond. Did you know they don't gots a blond crayon even in the sixty-four box?". Gots? The child is a menace who repeatedly annoys the characters, almost kills another kid, lights fires, and basically behaves in a manner that, in an attempt to be cute, ends up as sickeningly saccharine.

There's a lot to like in this book, no question. If you can get over the identical plot/characters and the awful blond child then the book reads rather nicely. It STILL did not deserve the Newbery Honor. Goodness me, no. But it's a nice title that should be interesting to many kids out there. I didn't personally take to it, but I can see how others might. An overly simple book that will garner a large following.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 12, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Do you think you can change a 13 year old teenager whose parents are in jail for selling and growing marijuana in their own home? Change him into a hard working student instead of the kid who just burnt down his old school?

Stephanie S. Tolan's book Surviving the Applewhites is a great book that shows that even the worst people have some good in them. Jake Semple is a scary kid. Word has it that he burned down his old school and then was kicked out of every school in his home state. Only a few weeks into September, the middle school in Traybridge, North Carolina, has thrown him out too. Now there's only one place left that will take him: a home school run by the weirdest, most outrageous, quarrelsome family you'll ever meet. Each and every Applewhite is an artist except E.D. the smart, scruffy girl E.D. and Jake, so close in age, are quickly paired in the family's first experiment in "cooperative education." The two clash immediately, of course. The only thing they have in common is the determination to survive the family's expectations. But when the Applewhite Father directs the Sound of Music it brings the family together and shows E.D. and Jake the value of the special gifts they've had all along.

I thought this book was awesome, but I don't think Tolan explained the characters well enough. There were too many people in the story and I couldn't keep them straight. I think Tolan did a great job describing the setting of the story I could imagine what it was like there with Jake and the craziness of living with 4 kids and 3 adults who are all obsessed with being artistic and showing their natural talents. When the family gets crazy about the play (The Sound of Music) you can fell their enthusiasm and excitement. I really like the novel.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2005
Format: Paperback
In the book Surviving the Applewhites the book starts off with Jake Semple. He is shipped off to the Creative Academy and there he has to be schooled there and while he is there he also learned a valuable lesson. While he is there E.D Applewhite resents him and like always thinks that she does not belong with all of her family who lives on their estate at the Creative Academy. While Jake is staying there he also feels that he does not belong there and toward the end of the book he realizes that he does have talent in acting and singing when he plays the oldest child's lover boy in the Applewhites production of The Sound of Music. Jake was a very luck boy to go the Creative academy, because it saved him from moving to Juvenile Hall for boys. When Jake entered the academy he was a rebellious teenager with red spiked hair, piercing and a bad smoking habit. But, when he left no more red spikes hair, no more piercing and smoking was out too.

Jake Semple was a diamond in the rough in the begging of the book. As I said before he had red spike hair with beautiful blonde hair underneath the dye, piercing all up his ear and the only thing he wore thought the whole year was black tee shirts and black baggy pants. Smoking and having a bad attitude were two of the many things that is wrong with Jake and which he needs to fix. His personality is very mean and care free since he does not care about what he says and how he acts toward people. At the end of the book Jake makes a very big transformation and you will have to read this fabulous book to see what I mean. Jake has many bad traits in the begging, but turns them all around so I guess me and him do have some similar traits like being kind to others, sometimes, and also during the end being very responsible for people and things.

My opinion of on the book was very good. I loved it and the book became my all time favorite, because the plot was set up so well and described wonderfully. My favorite part was when Jake first met E.D's younger brother Destiny and how he always looked up to Jake and tried to do everything like Jake. I would recommend this book to everyone I know who has not read it. Stephanie S. Tolan did a wonderful job writing this book and I think whoever would read it would fall in love with it just like it did.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Step 1: Get a nice comfy chair with a leg rest.

Step 2: Only read this book once a week for a certain period of time, usually at night. Otherwise when you want a nap.

Step 3: Bring a pillow or blanket.

Jake Semple, one name, and one school. He's the worst kid in living history of the East United States. Jake's gone to almost every school available on the East, and many foster families. The last school, is no more because he blew it up. Now, he won't be able to go to any school, except for one.

Jake Semple is one of the main characters in Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie S. Tolan, and is very known for blowing up a school. Only the Applewhite family will except him as a foster child. They think they can help him, and maybe they will. The Applewhites also own a creative school for the arts, and have also excepted Jake as a student there. E.D., Destiny, Aunt Lucille, Grandpa, Cordelia, Sybil, Archie, Hal, Zedediah, Randolf Applewhite, and Jeremy Bernstien, are the main characters throughout the story. Randolf Applewhite is a director of plays and musicals and is casting people for his next show, The Sound of Music. He's one player short, and finds out that Jake can sing. Randolf casts Jake as Rolf. Only, something strange is happening to Jake...

I'd say this book was alright, some good parts, and a lot of bad parts. I have to tell you this though, I fell asleep reading it almost every night, and to tell you the truth, I read a lot! There were some parts in the book that were interesting, but it was really hard to get through. Nothing came jumping out of the page, nothing totally came together to make complete sense. Surviving the Applewhites just wasn't the good book on the shelf. It was confusing at parts, like:

"A black swallowtail butterfly fluttered into the dining room, drifting serenly above the chaos." - page 165, Chapter 23.

This book was told from three main people, the narrator (mainly), Jake (not so much), and E.D. (not so much). Since the story is mostly told from the narrator's point of view, it made you feel as if you were sitting in the back of a noisy crowd, listening to a noisy book. The narrator can't really show that the character is thinking, or trying to say something. Many of the sentences in the book were- Jake said, "...", instead of I, me, or my said "...". That really took away from the book.

The story was set on a farm, so it wasn't dull or the same as other books, it was just different. Many books, at least some books, like this take place in the city, or in a very, very, very poor town. If this book was set in either of those, it would have changed a lot! People in the cities are sometimes not liked, and people in very urban areas are sometimes scary. It's not that all of those people aren't nice, it would just be a whole lot different.

Some of the people in this book were spoken of in bad ways. Example: "that Montrose woman", was found in a couple parts of this book. Now if you were the Montrose woman, wouldn't you want to be called Mrs. Montrose??? I would. In most books, people are referred to in polite ways and then think or can say (sometimes) things or names behind a person's back (still rude, but better). In this book, some things are just out of the ordinary, or as some people call it, o-d-d. Some of the characters in this book even call each other odd names, or if it was the woman, across the farm from her.

I would recommend this book to people who like to read tiring and somewhat boring books. Maybe in fourth grade. Personally, as a sixth grader, I really did not like the book. It was just plain too different from other books. It doesn't have a good plot, or a good description of the characters. This book almost ignored some of the characters after a while, but nothing happened to the person. So, it got even more confusing at those parts. Also at other main pieces of the book, it didn't let you read more about it, like the play near the end.

Doesn't sound like a good book to you, does it? Have (NO) fun reading this book! Good bye! Adios! And Chao!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2004
Format: Paperback
I read Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie S. Tolan. I would definitely give this book 5 stars. This book was funny, heartwarming, and interesting.

This book had many fun and crazy characters. Each of the characters had their own artistic talents, except for E.D. She wanted to be organized and be prepared to enter the world, while the other Applewhites practiced their own artistic skills. Jake Semple, a delinquent from Rhode Island, hates living with the Applewhites at the Creative Academy. Winston, the dog, and Destiny, the youngest Applewhite, love Jake and eventually Jake starts to love living at the Creative Academy. Jake even finds an artistic talent of his own, singing. The Creative Academy is a crazy home school. You choose what you want to do. You can practice art or, like E.D., do regular schoolwork like you would do in a public school.

This book makes you feel good inside. Jake changes from a delinquent to a normal teenager. He cut his spiky, red hair and he took out his earrings. When Randolf Applewhite was hired to direct The Sound of Music Jake finds his artistic talent. Randolf has Jake play Rolf, a main character in the play. The play is going good until the entire technical staff quit. The Applewhite family fills in for the entire technical staff. They did the choreography, costumes, and even E.D. steps up to be the stage manager. The play faces another obstacle when Mrs. Montrose, the president of the board, cancels the show. E.D. believes that they can have the play in their barn. The Applewhites bring in lighting, audio equipment, and people to help turn their barn into a theatre. Opening night comes and the theatre is only big enough to hold camera crews and the parents of the cast. When disaster strikes during the middle of the play, an unlikely person saves the day. You have to read this book to find out the ending, but you should read it just because it�s a great book.
I would recommend reading the book Hoot by Carl Hiassen. I would also recommend two great science-fiction books: The House of the Scorpion and The Hitchhiker�s Trilogy.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
"Gently pokes fun" is a phrase that turns up a lot in these reviews. Well, I don't think Tolan necessarily intended it, but this book has a little more of a contemptuous edge than the product reviews let on. Everyone is temperamental, spoiled, self-involved, dismissive and oblivious to the needs and feelings of others. That's not necessarily a bad recipe, but just bear in mind that this is not a sweetness and light saved-orphan kind of book.

In can also be heavy going. There is an incredibly annoying unnaturally sophisticated/cute toddler. There is a Yoda-grandfather. There is "artistic temperament" to burn. The heroine E.D. has a lot of attitude for a sketchy character, and everyone else is vaguely kookie/liberal in very predictable ways, (lots of tofu jokes).

A number of reviewers have noted that this is almost a carbon copy of the popular Bagthorpes books, which is interesting because they are weak in the same ways this book is.

It is also interesting to note that this book came out in 2002, but feels remarkably dated. It is much more like a send-up of 60's attitudes and behaviors, and I'm not sure that current readers will get a lot of the humor, (swamis, organic food, Southerners who don't recognize "ethnic" food? This is pretty old-time stuff.)

So, there it is. It has occurred to me that you could add drugs, alcohol, sex, profanity, electrotherapy, adultery and a bisexual hero to this book, but then you'd have Augusten Burrough's "Running With Scissors", which probably wasn't a Newbery contender.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on May 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover
In the book Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie S. Tolan, a bad city kid, Jake Semple, has been kicked out of every school he�s been to. He was taken to a school called the Creative Academy, where you study what you want to, when you want to. A family called the Applewhites owns the school and they both are crazy, chaotic, and creative. During his stay, Jake learns new things and his life starts to change. He becomes part of a production of The Sound of Music along with other Applewhites. Through this school Jake finds deep inside himself who he really is, without being a bad boy.
We personally thought the book Surviving the Applewhites was a great book. We really liked it because it was funny, especially when a four year old named Destiny tried to dye and spike his hair. Many times we could relate to the characters because their interests and personalities were a lot like our own. It was very fun to read because of these things. We would recommend it to sixth - eighth graders or anyone who wants to read a really great book.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2005
Format: Paperback
Jake Semple comes from a "bad" family. His parents are both in jail, so he is sent to a social worker. He managed to get kicked out of every school in the state of Rhode Island. He burned down the last school he went to, and the Applewhite's "Creative Academy" is his last chance before juvenile detention. He has a horrible attitude in the beginning of the book that stops him from accomplishing anything in the school. He decides when he arrives at the Applewhite's that he isn't going to learn anything, and continues being his rebellious self. His attitude gradually changes first, when Winston, the family dog befriends him. The two become inseparable, and soon Destiny and Jake get along well too. Throughout the book Jake's personality softens more and more. By the end of the book, he is actually cooperating with E.D. and they soon become friends. He even decides to cut off his fire red hair, and take out the ring in his eye brow and several different places in his ear. His time at the Applewhite's changes him completely and by the end, he is a different boy. He becomes an actor in the Applewhite's play and he even willingly helps design the set. This is an excellent story that shows how people can change over time, with a little help. It shows that in the right environment, people will make good choices to change on their own.

The Applewhite's weren't close at all before Jake came. When Randolph Applewhite needed help with his play, the family was convinced to stop their own work to help him. This shows just how close the huge family really was. Jake was also considered part of the family and started to feel that way when he was cast into Randolph's play. Even E.D. started to feel like a part of the family, even though she was completely different form all of the other Applewhites, when she was assigned a large part in the production of it. This play is the thing that really brought everyone together and is mainly what changed Jake's attitude and behavior. The play showed that when everyone worked together, the impossible could be achieved.

E.D. felt excluded from her family. She was the only Applewhite to be organized and feel the need to get things done on time. She was the one who always had lists and such. When Jake came to the Creative Academy, he was put in her class so that she could guide him along. She was so organized that she had planned out her own curriculum for the entire year. This difference made her not fit in with the rest of the family. When the need came for an orderly person when the play started falling apart, E.D. saved everything. She was the only Applewhite capable of organizing an entire play. With her in charge, everything went smoothly.

Jake Semple definitely made the most drastic change. His whole life, the "bad guy" label had been with him. That was who he thought he was, and who he made himself be. Everything about him fit this description when he arrived at the Applewhite's home, both appearance and attitude. When he found that cursing didn't bother the Applewhite's and his cigarettes were simply snatched from him, he began to stop these bad habits. He slowly became a better person, and even a good role model for Destiny. It was exciting at the end of the book, when he cut his hair and took out his eyebrow ring and showed everyone watching the play that he was no longer the bad kid he had always been known as.

Surviving the Applewhite's is an excellent book, filled with very well described characters. The way the author wrote it makes you feel like you were right there on Wit's End with the Applewhites. The ending of the story is great. It makes it so that everyone in the book finds who they really are. This is a great book for just about anyone to read.

A. Stone
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