Matt Brown's top 5 school stories for kids

Published on: 15 March 2019 Author: Matt Brown

When author Matt Brown wrote a book about a school trip, it set him on his own trip down memory lane. Discover his favourite books with school settings for children (and grown-ups who want to relive it) – here's to best friends, packed lunches and crushes...

As you might expect, my new book, Mutant Zombies Cursed My School Trip!, is jam-packed full of scary things, like zombies and monsters and evil plans. But here’s a really frightening thought. You spend six hours a day, five days a week, 39 weeks a year, for 14 years of your life IN SCHOOL! AAGHHHHHHHHHH!

By the time you reach the age of 18, you will have clocked up 16,380 school-hours, give or take. SIXTEEN THOUSAND, THREE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY HOURS! That’s like watching nearly 33,000 episodes of Eastenders. That must be against the law or something, mustn’t it?

As we spend so much of our lives in school, it will come as absolutely no surprise to you that some of the very finest books in the land have been set in schools. For an author (like me), a school is a place of rich pickings to write about. That’s one of the reasons I set Mutant Zombies Curse My School Trip! in a school. You’ll love it, it’s about a kid called Ian whose world is thrown upside-down when he and his whole class go on a school trip to a very creepy-looking stately home. Things take a horrific turn when Ian discovers something terrifying about the owner of Leviathan Hall who is actually a… But wait, I’ve already said too much. You’ll just have to read Mutant Zombies Cursed My School Trip! for yourself to find out what happens.

Instead, why don’t I run you through my top five favourite books set in schools...

Top 5 children's books set in schools

1. Harry Potter by J K Rowling

J K Rowling is the absolute master of building fabulous, extraordinary worlds and I love the way she captures the sense of a great school community. As someone who didn’t go to boarding school, I’ve always had a very rose-tinted view of them. The idea of being completely parent-free and with your friends, all the time, is incredibly appealing. I think Hogwarts represents this idealised view brilliantly. I also love all the little touches when we see how the school works. Like when the food appears on tables at lunchtime, or the way the grand staircase moves around to let pupils get to where they need to go. It’s definitely a school that I’d love to have gone to. Well, apart from that whole Voldemort thing.

Read our book review of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

2. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ by Sue Townsend

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ is one of my favourite books of all time, and whilethe book isn’t set in a school, school plays a huge part in Adrian’s life. It is a school that is the exact opposite of Hogwarts but is almost exactly like the school I went to. It is a school where bad things can happen, and often do. Nothing really ever goes right for poor old Adrian, or if it does go right, then it goes wrong not long after. I read this when I was about 13¾ and I LOVED it because of the fabulously funny descriptions of school life. There is a brilliant bit where Adrian describes a school coach trip that goes very badly wrong. It reminded me so much of trips that I used to go on.

'8.25 Drive on to motorway
8.30 Everyone singing ‘Ten Green Bottles’
8.35 Everyone singing ‘Ten Green Snotrags’
8.45 Coach driver stops singing by shouting very loudly'

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ is hilarious and sad and touching all at the same time and is incredible.

Read our book review of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole

3. I Hate School by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross

It’s definitely worth remembering that at one time or another all of us have felt the DREAD when we’ve woken from a lovely dream only to realise that it’s Monday morning and we have to go to school. Jeanne Willis’s crackling poetry fuses perfectly with Tony Ross’s amazing illustrations. Frankly, it’s a hate-filled masterpiece.

'There was a fine young lady
Her name was Honor Brown
She didn’t want to go to school
She hoped it would burn down'

Read our book review of I Hate School

4. Wonder by R J Palacio

Another incredibly honest look at not just how brilliant school can be, but also how awful and spiteful and downright nasty it can be too. We see Auggie’s battle to be treated like an ordinary kid through his, and some of his other classmates, eyes. Wonder is a breathtaking look at how terrifying it is to be the new kid at school, but how kind teachers and great new friends can help you overcome pretty much anything. I would suggest having a box of tissues close by when you read this because the tears will flow. Or they did with me.

Read our book review of Wonder

5. The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

A few years ago I had, what I thought, was an amazing idea for a story. Why isn’t there a book about a school that teaches you how to be an evil villain? It could be called the School for Evil. Well, as it turned out, a quick google search told me that there was a book like that and it was called the School for Good and Evil. After a few minutes of angry yelling, I went and bought the book and found it to be much better than my idea would ever have been. I absolutely adore this wicked, funny series. If you want to be evil (or good), you could learn a thing or two.

Read our book review of The School for Good and Evil

Other books for the reading list

And, if you’re keen to read other books featuring ever so slightly chaotic school trips, we can suggest these… 

Beaky Malone: World's Worst School Trip

Author: Barry Hutchison Illustrator: Katie Abey

After stepping through a truth-telling machine, Beaky Malone finds himself in all sorts of trouble. With comical illustrations, short chapters and hilarity on every page, this riotous book is ideal for independent young readers.

Read more about Beaky Malone: World's Worst School Trip

Bad Nana: Older Not Wiser

Author: Sophy Henn

Bad Nana is quite unlike Jeanie’s other two grandmas. So when Jeanie and her class go on a school trip, it’s no surprise that Bad Nana manages to make it a lot more interesting than anyone expected. A riot of bright colour and laugh-out-loud moments.

Read more about Bad Nana: Older Not Wiser

There’s a Werewolf in my Tent!

Author: Pamela Butchart Illustrator: Thomas Flintham

Izzy and her friends are excited about their camping trip - until they realise there may be a dangerous creature in their midst. Full of humour and tension, as the children's wild imaginations construct a hilarious back story to make sense of events.

Read more about There’s a Werewolf in my Tent!

A Dangerous Game

Author: Malorie Blackman Illustrator: Mike Lowery

Sam’s sickle-cell anaemia means he has trouble keeping up with the other boys in his class, but a school trip into the wild gives him the chance to be a hero. A fast-paced adventure story with plenty of peril and heart. 

Read more about A Dangerous Game

Sam Wu is Not Afraid of Ghosts

Author: Katie and Kevin Tsang Illustrator: Nathan Reed

Sam Wu is scared of many things but is determined not to let anyone find out. This funny, fast-paced chapter book is the first in a series of Sam Wu adventures. Full of humour, black-and-white illustrations and a wacky plot.

Read more about Sam Wu is Not Afraid of Ghosts


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