Seven super books set during schooldays

Published on: 09 May 2023

My Name is Sunshine Simpson author G.M. Linton shares her favourite stories set at school, from classics to more recent releases.

The front cover of My Name is Sunshine Simpson and a photo of author G. M. Linton

There are all sorts of adventures to be had in stories about schooldays – and, arguably, authors have to work even harder to create narratives that children find not only relatable and realistic, but that step up to becoming EXTRA-ordinary tales.

My selection shows that books set at school can be at the forefront of stimulating change, promoting empathy and showcasing diversity, yet, in the best tradition of children's books, they are equally full of wonder and excitement.

1. A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll

An illustration of a girl's face from the front cover of A Kind of Spark

Pic: Kay Wilson

11-year-old Addie campaigns for a memorial in her hometown when she learns about witch trials that took place there years before.

Addie's life isn't made the easiest by her school teacher, Miss Murphy, and a rather unkind classmate, but this story about courage, friendship, family and what it means to be different is a real triumph. Addie is a wonderful character, whom you cheer for all the way through – and the story is told with warmth, humour and effortless style.

Read our review of A Kind of Spark

2. Wonder by R.J. Palacio

The front cover of Wonder

10-year-old August (Auggie) has rare facial anomalies, Treacher-Collins syndrome. After being home educated for the first part of his life, we meet Auggie when he is about to start school.

Told from different viewpoints, including his school friends and sister as well as Auggie himself, this is a tender and moving story about understanding and celebrating difference. A wonder of a book.

Read our review of Wonder

3. Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun by Tọlá Okogwu

An illustration of a girl with hair flowing above and around her looking determined, from the front cover of Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun

Pic: Bea Jackson

A superhero story with a difference. Set mostly in Nigeria, at a school for children with superpowers, Onyeka's hair is her strength.

As someone who often struggled with my afro-textured hair as a child, seeing a young Black girl – and her hair – portrayed in this positive and powerful way is so refreshing. I wish I had this book to read when I was younger.

Read our review of Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun

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

The front cover of The Boy at the Back of the Class

A group of 9-year-old classmates befriend Ahmet, a young refugee who has been separated from his family. The lengths the friends go to to try and help Ahmet are quite something. This is such a heartfelt, beautiful and impactful story. It's something special.

Read our review of The Boy at the Back of the Class

5. Small! by Hannah Moffatt

A snippet of the front cover of Small, including the word 'Small' and a child in stilts looking up nervously

Pic: Rory Walker

10-year-old Harvey Small is enrolled at Madame Bogbrush's School for Giants. The trouble is, Harvey isn't a giant, so he has to spend most of the story pretending to be one by stumbling around on stilts.

This gentle and hilarious tale about bravery and friendship is a joy from start to finish. With character names such as Walloping Toenail, Lumbering Turnip and Gallumphing Doorknob, what's not to love?

Read our review of Small!

6. My Best Fiend by Sheila Lavelle

An illustration of two girls - one of them holding a spider - from the front cover of My Best Fiend

Pic: Garry Parsons

I read this book many times over as a child. Charlie Ellis accidentally writes in her school essay that her friend Angela Mitchell is her 'best fiend' instead of 'best friend'. The mistake actually has quite a lot of truth to it, as mischievous Angela gets innocent Charlie into trouble time and again.

7. Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

A photo of a backpack with pencils and notebooks in it from the front cover of Are You There God It's Me Margaret

Yes, this book was written in the 1970s, but so many of the themes within it are still relevant today.

The book's main protagonist, 12-year-old Margaret Simon, negotiates moving home, starting at a new school, new friends, and her changing body with real charm and insight. And important issues raised in the book are handled in a gentle, understanding, yet humorous way. It's an enduring delight.

My Name is Sunshine Simpson by G. M. Linton is out now.

Read our review

My Name is Sunshine Simpson

Author: G. M. Linton

What is special about Sunshine Simpson? She needs to find something to say about herself for a school assembly – but what? A delight of a book, exploring grief, friendship dynamics and finding your voice in a friendly, relatable manner.

Read more about My Name is Sunshine Simpson

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