Why read? The School Story

There are a whole world of genres in children’s literature, and there are new ones being created each and every day. In these posts, I’ll be focusing  on some of the key genres and both introduce them and offer some top hints on where to begin.

My first in this occasional series is very close to my heart. Behold the school story genre!

Image: theirhistory (Flickr)

The appeal of school stories can come from both the mimicking and distancing of real life. Education is something nearly everybody experiences, albeit in different forms. Reflecting this common experience onto literature allows the reader to both empathise with characters and also allow a sense of wish fulfilment to occur. In the book the mean girl might get her comeuppance, the awkward kid save the day, or the school is racked by a series of pranks. In the real world, it might be a very different scenario. The kid might be lonely, bullied or just unable to talk yet in the quick brashness of schools. Books set in schools can show behaviours and strategies to help in dealing with this and also implicitly support the child by reinforcing the very simple fact that they are not alone.

There’s also something rather glorious about the structure of school stories. They occur very much in their own world that’s been separated from the ‘real’ world of the reader. It’s rare, for example, to read one that doesn’t begin with a journey. This can range from taking the train from Platform 9/34, the boat across the Tiernsee, or getting sent to England from the wilds of Africa. The journey element helps to remove the book school from the reader and their daily trials and tribulations. This source of escapism would prove to be something of a poignant source of comfort during World War Two. The school story was thriving, vigorously so, and some of the best of the genre were produced during this era. Have a look at the Chalet School in Exile for some superbly ideological bravery and also Owen Dudley Edward’s magnificent ‘British Children’s Fiction in the Second World War‘ for more info.

School stories have had a little bit of a resurgence in the past few years. Stemming initially from the dominance of the Harry Potter series, this has boiled down into a host of books hitting the market. You can track everything I’ve written on school stories here and this includes reviews of The Paladin Prophecy, the Alice-Miranda books and also a vast amount on my Mastermind specialist subject which is early 20th century school stories. Commonly referred to as GirlsOwn literature, this covers authors such as Angela Brazil and my darling Elinor M. Brent-Dyer.

Other key authors in the genre include the indefatigable Enid Blyton for her redoubtable ‘Malory Towers’, ‘The Naughtiest Girl’ and ‘St Clares’ books. Despite being published a good seventy odd years ago respectively, they still remain popular and St Clares, as I discovered recently, has a peculiarly prevalent life as the series (and FILM!) Hanni und Nanni.

If you’re interested in a list of school story recommendations, have a look here. The FCBG (Federation of Children’s Book Groups) hold a regular Twitter chat on various different topics. It’s always fascinating, and you’re guaranteed to end with a list of titles you need to get hold of instantly.


– School stories reflect the commonality of school, the dominant impact of education upon the majority of children  and offer a way of both dealing with, and escaping it. Because they’re awesome.

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