Top ten back to school books

MaidaSchoolThis week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme from The Broke and the Bookish is “Back to School,” so I’ve come up with a list of ten of my favorite books that are set in schools, both realistic and fantastical.

This list focuses on children’s and YA novels; I could do a whole different list of books set in colleges and universities, or of adult memoirs of childhood, and maybe I will soon.

With those exclusions in mind, here are my picks. What would yours be?

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Maida’s Little School by Inez Haynes Irwin

There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom by Louis Sachar

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones

Sabriel by Garth Nix

Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey

Heaven To Betsy by Maud Hart Lovelace

Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery

27 thoughts on “Top ten back to school books

  1. As a schoolteacher myself I was loathe to read school-based fiction since I must have felt real-life teaching revealed as much angst as I could manage. But somehow I managed the Harry Potter books and Witch Week, perhaps because they had that extra magical dimension, and all the Garth Nix Old Kingdom tales that features schools on either side of the Wall.

    Maybe I’ll get round to ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’ sometime and all those American classics you mention. Where college is concerned, Eva Ibbotson’s ‘The Morning Gift’ is a probable candidate for inclusion. Roald Dahl’s autobiographical ‘Boy’ — which dramatises key episodes in his schooldays, only slightly leavened with humour the horrific treatment at British all-boys schools that I recognised from my own experiences in the mid 20C.


  2. A great list! So many fun classics; I don’t know that I’ve ever read the Anne of Green Gables novels, but someday I MUST. I’m sure “A Little Princess” and “Ballet Shoes” are excellent reads as well. I love the stories (as seen in films), so the books must be as good if not better. ๐Ÿ™‚


    1. A Little Princess and Ballet Shoes were iconic books from my childhood. I desperately wanted to go to Madame Fidolia’s Academy, and even Miss Minchin’s would have been fine if Sara Crewe were there.


  3. Aww, Heaven to Betsy. Is that the book about her sophomore year? The book about her sophomore year was the one that always stuck with me as a very back-to-school kind of book, because I thiiiink that’s the one where they all have to read Ivanhoe prior to class starting. And nobody does it except Betsy, and she can’t write an essay about it properly because she loves it too much.

    With the benefit of hindsight, this is insane. Ivanhoe is terrible and Betsy is a beautiful lunatic.


    1. Heaven to Betsy is the freshman book; the sophomore one is called Betsy in Spite of Herself, and yes, that’s the one where they have to read Ivanhoe. Betsy describes it so well to the boys (who have not read it) that they get top marks on their papers, while she gets tangled up in her own purple prose and the teacher mocks her in front of the class. Obviously that scene made a strong impression on me too – although I have not yet read Ivanhoe to judge whether Betsy’s love for it was truly insane.


  4. What reader doesnโ€™t love a list? I second Larkโ€™s request for you to generate a list with books in high school and university. I have read a few of the books listed, my favorite being probably Harriet the Spy which I first read while in Elementary School. I am curious to try Maidaโ€™s Little School and Heavens to Betsy. They look like they would be retro fun to read.


  5. What a great list! I’m especially fond of the Betsy-Tacy books. My fave back-to-school book is prob Tam Lin, but since I have both written about it multiple times (and you wrote that terrific post), I dare not blog about it anymore.


    1. You will never see me complaining about you writing too many times about Tam Lin. Some other benighted souls might find it too much, perhaps.

      Mentioning the Betsy-Tacy books has set me off on a reread, as always seems to happen when i make a list.


  6. Oh my God, so many of my favourites on this list! The Malory Towers and St. Claire’s series’ by Enid Blyton are also my favourites! I’d also add Erich Kastner’s Flying Classroom to the list. (Oh, nostalgia..)


    1. Not being a Brit, I have never read anything by Enid Blyton – I don’t know why she never caught on here to the same degree. I should really seek something out though. I hadn’t heard of that Erich Kastner title – sounds like fun!


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