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Home-schooled teenager's novel now #2 on NYTimes bestseller list | (KRT) The latest wunderkind of home schooling, Christopher Paolini, grew up by a river in rural Montana and wrote the hit fantasy novel "Eragon" when he was 15.

In October, soon after Alfred A. Knopf published the magical thriller, it jumped to No. 3 on The New York Times bestseller list for hardcover children's chapter books. This month it hit No. 2, outstripping four of the five Harry Potters. (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)

Paolini, now a lanky and poised 19-year-old with a fresh-scrubbed face, is clearly ecstatic. He reportedly sold the 528-page "Eragon" for a price in the mid-six figures, and he's under contract to write two sequels for his "Inheritance" trilogy.

Although he has been accepted at Reed College in Oregon, he's not sure he'll go.

"I'm getting paid to do what I love and it's not like I've stopped learning," Paolini said at a recent book-signing. After all, before his book tour, he listened to a taped college course on Einstein's theory of relativity and modern quantum physics. He insists "it was lots of fun."

Paolini says he's glad he was home schooled because it gave him the time to write "Eragon." But he believes the success of home schooling is totally dependent on the parents' thoughtful involvement.

"The problem with home schooling is you can either get an incredible education or you can get no education at all," he says. "I do know of families in Montana whose kids reach high school age and they don't know how to do basic math and have no background in literature, because the parents were doing canning and the parents said the kids were learning counting from canning."

Unlike "unschoolers," Paolini says he and his younger sister followed a fairly regimented curriculum devised by their mother, a trained Montessori teacher. They used home-education materials made by the A Beka Academy in Pensacola, Fla.

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Paolini's mother guided them until they reached high school age, when they enrolled in an accredited online distance-learning program called The American School.

"We put ourselves through high school, essentially," he says. "That was one of the most valuable lessons - learning how to learn."

Paolini says sometimes having his mom as his teacher made the mother-son dynamic more intense, but they managed. It might have been nice to grow up around more kids, but he's meeting plenty now on the lecture circuit.

"I've been in more schools with this book than I would have going to regular schools," he says with a grin. "It's retribution, I guess."

Home schooling gave him wide latitude to pursue his own interests in music, writing and computer games. He does not believe, however, that children should be totally free to decide what they study.

"If it was up to kids, half the time you know you wouldn't be allowed to teach them anything," he explains. "They don't understand how useful it's going to be later in life or how much they'll end up enjoying it."

Any personal examples?

"I remember marching up to my mom and saying, `I hate reading.'"

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© 2003, The Record Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services