Those of us who are in education love school. There are many fond memories of our own experiences when we were students ourselves. Because I feel this way myself, I love books that are set in a school—it’s a great backdrop for many stories and a setting that we can all connect to. Stories in schools can also teach us, helping us to see school from a different perspective.
Here are a few of my favorite books that are set in schools, with a little reflection on why other teachers might want to check them out:
Nothing But the Truth by Avi: The way this story is told is unique and easy for younger readers to understand. Even though it's categorized in the young adult genre, the themes are very applicable to the modern-day classroom. Not to ruin the ending, but one of the themes centers around how small classroom events can easily gain national context. Written in the time before social media, this is a tale of misunderstanding and how the media can impact the classroom.
The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy: Conroy is probably better known for The Prince of Tides, but this novel is on the same level. Set in an all-boys military boarding school, this book is about the challenges of navigating the masculine—and sometimes violent—world of young men. Besides being a great novel, it takes the reader into the culture of a world that most of us have never experienced. And through that lens, we can see the adolescent male culture for all the positives and negatives that it holds.
Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling: This probably goes without saying, but it’s also one of my all-time favorites, so it’s on the list. Hogwarts, the school the characters attend, is almost a character in and of itself. The pressures of school are a major part of the story along with the teachers, rules, and grades. This story just wouldn’t be the same with a different setting.
4B Goes Wild by Jamie Gilson: I haven’t read this book since elementary school, but it’s one of my nostalgic favorites. It’s about a class of fourth graders who go camping together. It touched on all of the real funny and silly things that go on between 10-year-old kids. I hope all elementary teachers are able to help students find a favorite book like this that sticks with them over many years.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio: This is a wonderful book about a student with disabilities who begins to attend school. The characters are real, funny, and relatable. I love how this novel is able to teach the reader about acceptance and honesty while being heartfelt at the same time. This is a great read aloud option for the classroom because of the many important themes that it incorporates.
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier: Along the same lines as the Conroy novel, this book takes place in an all-boys boarding school. It’s a simpler, young adult approach to the same kinds of themes (also found in A Separate Peace, which is another wonderful novel). The relationship between the teachers and the students stands out, and we can see a student perspective for what being a teacher really should mean.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger: This one is barely set in a school, but Holden getting kicked out of school is what really starts the rest of the events of the book in motion. I also love the theme of the title—teachers are often in the profession to be the “catcher in the rye” for our students. Understanding that metaphor is key to understanding the novel—and why many teachers do what they do every day.
Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park: These wonderful books help our youngest readers to relate to school, rules, and their fellow classmates. Kids love these books and teachers will as well.
These novels are some of my favorites. There are many more that could be added to the list, but these are just a few that teachers might find worth reading. Each of these can teach us a little bit about how others see school and teachers. Through humor, insight, magic, or drama, each story is well worth the time invested.
What are your favorite books about education and schooling? Let us know in the comments below! For more insightful topics like this, be sure to subscribe to the Educator blog.