"Azalea, Unschooled," a novel for middle grade readers, launches May 5. We sat down with Portland-based author Liza Kleinman to discuss the makings of the story, which focuses on a young girl who is facing the challenges of moving to a new home, making friends, and finding room for differences within her family.
How did you find out about unschooling?
Some years ago, I was at the playground with my daughter. A little girl around her age came up to us and started talking. I asked what grade she was in, and she said, "I don't go to school. I unschool. I learn on my own." That was the first I'd heard of unschooling. I went home and looked it up online, and learned that it's a widespread movement.
Are you a proponent of unschooling?
I am not from an unschooling family, and I was not writing to argue for or against unschooling. I approached the subject with the curiosity of a person who is interested in the moment when people say, "I don't have to do that." I wanted to explore the lives of people who challenge the assumptions most of us live with.
What did you learn while writing the book?
I learned a lot about Portland history while researching the book. I also learned, in talking to people about the book, that there are a lot more people than I realized who participate in alternative schooling, whether it's homeschooling, unschooling, or a combination of different types of education.
Could the characters in this book have learned the same lessons if they attended conventional school?
I think they could have, but in a different way. The kids in the book, and the adults, as well, learn some lessons about friendship and family and self-discovery. Being unschoolers gives the kids different opportunities, and more independence, than if they had been attending school. But as one of the characters in the book says, "There are all kinds of ways to learn a lesson."
What was your favorite book as a kid?
I had a lot of them, but one that I really loved was Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer." Tom didn't spend a whole lot of time in school, as I recall.
To find out more about Liza and "Azalea, Unschooled," visit our online bookshop. We also invite you to join us for the launch party, which takes place on Saturday, May 9 at Greenlight Studio in Portland, Maine. Join us for a book sale, a signing with Liza and illustrator Brook Gideon, and light refreshments. 3-5 p.m.