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.
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
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.
2. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
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.
3. Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun by Tọlá Okogwu
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.
4. The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Rauf
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.
5. Small! by Hannah Moffatt
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?
6. My Best Fiend by Sheila Lavelle
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
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
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.