Back to School

September is upon us, and I'm already missing the summer. It's a time of year that always brings with it that back-to-school feeling. At least it does for me, even though my own school days are a distant, distant memory. Those years stick with all of us, though, which is perhaps part of the reason why schools are such a rich environment for fiction. 

In this blog we're looking at some of the best school-based books, across all age groups. From books to help children with their first-day nerves and the fears of not fitting in, to school-set crime fiction and thrillers, to books about memorable and inspiring teachers. There's something for everyone on this list, and hopefully several books you don't know and will want to try. Enjoy!


When Can I Go Back To School? by Anna Friend and Jake Biggin 

When Can I Go Back to School? is a reassuring journey through a child's common worries and fears during the worldwide pandemic and beyond. With his school shut and no one able to tell him when it will re-open, Billy is worried about what will happen next... Will things ever return to the way they were before? Anna Friend wrote this book at the start of the pandemic to calm her son and later asked her friend Jake Biggin to illustrate the story. 
They self-published it thinking it might help some other families. They couldn't believe the response! Now, with the help of Scholastic, this wonderful book is set to help thousands more families struggling with anxious children. With mindfulness activities for families to do together to combat feelings of anxiety. 
Beautifully illustrated and simply written, it allows the reader to understand how a child might be feeling and gives a voice to those thoughts that are pinging around a child's head making them feel wobbly and upset. 

My School Unicorn by Willow Evans and Tom Knight 

Starting school is an adventure - especially when you have a magical unicorn friend by your side! It's almost time for Evie to go to school, but thinking about it makes her feel all wobbly and anxious. Nursery is lots of fun, but big school sounds a little bit scary. But when Evie puts on her new school uniform, she makes a magical discovery. 
Hidden inside the pocket of her jumper is Bobby, a tiny school unicorn. Bobby has a very important job - helping children feel brave when they go to school. With her new magical friend by her side, Evie soon learns that starting school is LOTS of fun. A magical tale of friendship to soothe your little one's starting-school worries. Includes instructions on how to make your very own school unicorn! 


How to Get Your Teacher Ready for School by Jean Reagan and Lee Wildish 

Celebrate the school year with the author-illustrator team behind the bestselling How to Babysit a Grandad. Follow a class of adorable students as they make sure their teacher is ready all year round. Written in a tongue-in-cheek instructional style, this book is a playful and heart-warming celebration of teachers and school, and an empowering book to help calm back-to-school nerves.


The Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

There are now 15 books in the phenomenally successful Wimpy Kid series (250 million copies sold worldwide!). 
'Let me get something straight: this is a JOURNAL not a diary... The other thing I want to clear up right away is that this was MOM's idea, not mine.'  
As the series begins things are not going well for Greg Heffley. He's been thrust into a new school where under-size weaklings share the corridors with kids who are taller, meaner and already shaving.  Along with his friend Rowley, Greg's desperate to prove his new maturity, which only going up a grade can bring. But when Rowley's star starts to rise, will Greg be able to reach the same heights of popularity as his best friend?   


One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus 


This internationally bestselling YA thriller by acclaimed author, Karen M. McManus, is soon to be a major new TV series.

Five students go to detention. Only four leave alive. Yale hopeful Bronwyn has never publicly broken a rule. Sports star Cooper only knows what he's doing in the baseball diamond. Bad boy Nate is one misstep away from a life of crime.  Prom queen Addy is holding together the cracks in her perfect life. And outsider Simon, creator of the notorious gossip app at Bayview High, won't ever talk about any of them again. He dies 24 hours before he could post their deepest secrets online.  
Investigators conclude it's no accident. All of them are suspects. Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you'll go to protect them.  


The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Rauf 


This multi award-winning book is told with heart and humour, The Boy at the Back of the Class is a child's perspective on the refugee crisis, highlighting the importance of friendship and kindness in a world that doesn't always make sense.

There used to be an empty chair at the back of my class, but now a new boy called Ahmet is sitting in it. He's nine years old (just like me), but he's very strange. 

He never talks and never smiles and doesn't like sweets - not even lemon sherbets, which are my favourite! But then I learned the truth: Ahmet really isn't very strange at all. He's a refugee who's run away from a War. A real one. 
With bombs and fires and bullies that hurt people. And the more I find out about him, the more I want to help. That's where my best friends Josie, Michael and Tom come in. 
Because you see, together we've come up with a plan. . . 

Based in part on the stories she encountered when working in refugee camps, Onjali Q. Raúf’s remarkable debut deserves to be ranked as a modern classic. It is an unforgettable story of hope, curiosity and the importance of kindness.


Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wonder is now an Oscar-nominated film starring Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson and Jacob Tremblay.

My name is August. I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.

Auggie wants to be an ordinary ten-year-old. He does ordinary things - eating ice cream, playing on his Xbox. He feels ordinary - inside. But ordinary kids don't make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. Ordinary kids aren't stared at wherever they go. Born with a terrible facial abnormality, Auggie has been home-schooled by his parents his whole life. 
Now, for the first time, he's being sent to a real school - and he's dreading it. All he wants is to be accepted - but can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, underneath it all?

Wonder is a funny, frank, astonishingly moving debut to read in one sitting, pass on to others, and remember long after the final page. 


The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas 


The winner of the Waterstones Children's Book Prize and Winner of the Children's Book of the Year in 2018 at the British Book Awards. The Hate U Give is also a #1 New York Times bestseller and a major film. 

Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised, and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community.  It could also get her killed. This is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl's struggle for justice.  


The Secret Place by Tana French 


The photo shows a boy who was murdered a year ago. The caption says, 'I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM'. Detective Stephen Moran hasn't seen Holly Mackey since she was a nine-year-old witness to the events of Faithful Place. 
Now she's sixteen and she's shown up outside his squad room, with a photograph and a story. Even in her exclusive boarding school, in the graceful golden world that Stephen has always longed for, bad things happen and people have secrets. The previous year, Christopher Harper, from the neighbouring boys' school, was found murdered on the grounds. 
And today, in the Secret Place - the school noticeboard where girls can pin up their secrets anonymously - Holly found the card. 
Stephen will have to find a way into the strange, charged, mysterious world that Holly and her three closest friends inhabit and disentangle the truth from their knot of secrets, even as he starts to suspect that the truth might be something he doesn't want to hear.

From the multi-award-winning author of Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller In the Woods, The Secret Place is a searing novel of psychological suspense, and replicates the intensity of school life and teenage friendships with subtlety and skill.


To Sir with Love by E.R. Braithwaite 


In 1945, Rick Braithwaite, a smart, highly educated ex-RAF pilot, looks for a job in British engineering. He is deeply shocked to realise that, as a black man from British Guiana, no one will employ him because of the colour of his skin. In desperation he turns to teaching, taking a job in a tough East End school, and left to govern a class of unruly teenagers. With no experience or guidance, Braithwaite attempts to instill discipline, confound prejudice and ultimately, to teach.  

A book that the reader devours quickly, ponders slowly, and forgets not at all. Moving and inspiring. New York Times. 

E.R. Braithwaite's post-war novel about a black teacher fighting to win the respect of white pupils in a school in the East End of London is a milestone in the campaign for racial equality. Guardian.

It is the noblest, most moving, least sentimental account of life in a modern school and of a teacher's struggles with his pupils and with himself that I have come across - Michael Croft, the Observer. 


English Monsters by James Scudamore 


When ten-year-old Max is sent to boarding school, his idyllic childhood comes to an abrupt end. Away from the freedom of his grandfather's farm, a world of rules and punishment awaits. But so too does the companionship of a close-knit group of classmates. Years later, as Max and his friends face down adulthood, a dark secret from their schooldays is revealed, drawing them together in unforeseen ways. Who knew what, and when? And who now wants to see justice done?

James Scudamore is now a force in the English novel - Hilary Mantel.

A very impressive novel - Sarah Moss

Breathtakingly good - Observer

Dark, tender, troubling - Guardian 


The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark


We finish with a stone-cold classic. A devastating portrait of a narcissistic Edinburgh school mistress and the coterie of impressionable girls that she takes under her wing, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie cloaks a deliciously scathing attack on the abuse of power in exquisitely crafted and economical prose.  

Romantic, heroic, comic and tragic, unconventional schoolmistress Jean Brodie has become an iconic figure in post-war fiction. Her glamour, unconventional ideas and manipulative charm hold dangerous sway over her girls at the Marcia Blaine Academy - 'the creme de la creme' - who become the Brodie 'set', introduced to a privileged world of adult games that they will never forget.

Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was adapted into a successful stage play, and later a film directed by Ronald Neame and starring Maggie Smith. 


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