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Most of us love school stories, but do not know of others beyond Enid Blyton and Harry Potter. Here are 12 must read lesser known school stories.
Schools in India resumed this month, and parents and children geared up for a new year, a new beginning: new uniforms, new books, new teachers, new schedules, probably a new set of classmates.
Even in this age where home schooling and un-schooling have begun to make their presence felt, school still serves as a second home – whether residential or day school. Literature for children has many books set in this wondrous place.
Most of us have grown up reading Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers, St Clare’s and Naughtiest Girl books, the Chalet School books and Angela Brazil’s school stories. There are the classics like What Katy Did at School, A Little Princess, etc., some of which are now available online. Children today are familiar with this genre through the Harry Potter books.
What about exploring school stories beyond these famous names? Here are a few not-so-commonly-known books/series that are a must read.
Because of Mr.Terupt is the story of seven 5th graders, who have their own quirks and agendas, and their new teacher, Mr. Terupt. Each successive chapter is narrated by one of the children. An outstanding book on the power of a good teacher.
Falling in the fantasy genre, Princess Academy is the story of Miri, a girl living in the mountains, her people quarrying the stone there for generations. A prophecy says that the future queen will be from her people, and the king sets up a school, the Princess Academy, to educate the girls of the region. Then one day, bandits capture the school…
This is a princess tale with a difference, one which brings forth the importance of education in empowering girls.
Nick Allen is a smart 5th grader in Frindle. In a stand-off with his teacher, over how words are created, he begins calling a pen, a frindle. Soon everyone starts using the word, and it all spins out his control. In today’s world where advances in technology lead to new words, with unusual uses for old words, this book makes perfect sense. Andrew Clements, a school teacher by profession, is known for his many wonderful books based in a school environment.
In The View From Saturday,four dysfunctional 6th graders become close friends after being brought together by their teacher and work wonderfully well together to form the school academic bowl (quiz) team. It is more their ‘real world’ experiences, (reminiscent of Slum Dog Millionaire) rather than textbook learning that helps them in this. Their individual stories mesh together to drive the narrative.
In Schooled, Capricorn (Cap for short), a gentle 13 year old home-schooled by his grandmother in a farm commune, is sent to regular school after his grandmother has a bad accident. The group dynamics of his new classmates, who have known each other all their life, and Cap’s relative naiveté leads to a predictable conflict. A coming of age book with complex, realistic characters, and no easy answers, but a positive message: be true to yourself.
In Bloomability, Dinnie’s parents lead a nomadic life, and she has moved multiple times in her life, always adapting to her new circumstances. Until her uncle and aunt ‘kidnap’ her and take her to a residential school in Switzerland, where there are students from all over the world. This is where Dinnie finally begins to get in touch with her own self, and to bloom.
A wonderful story about knowing yourself, about fitting in, and about the realization that what people appear to be is not always what they are.
Trenton Stewart Lee
The Mysterious Benedict Society is the story of four gifted children with separate skills, recruited after solving a series of mind-benders, by a Mr. Benedict, to infiltrate a school as bona fide students. The Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened has a devious school headmaster, and they have to get the better of him. A very interesting read, this is a series that will be thoroughly enjoyed for its plot, and the exercise for the grey cells.
In The Hundred Dresses,Wanda is a poor girl, who comes to school in the same dress every day. Teased about it by her more affluent classmates, she tells them that she has a hundred dresses at home, making them mock her even more. One day, Wanda’s family moves, and she stops coming to school. Why did she move? What happens next? Do her classmates make amends? And what about the hundred dresses? This is a good book, along with The Diddakoi, to talk about the ‘mean girls’ behavior in school.
School Ahead is a collection of school stories, based in Indian schools. New students, changing schools, friendships, achievements, rivalries, bullying, good and bad teachers … all of this is there, and more.
Edited by Richa Jha
Whispers in the Classroom, Voices on the Field is an anthology of school stories the reader can easily identify with, written by some of the finest Indian writers of fiction for children. Stories based in school, as well as out of it – for example, there is a story from the point of view of a man on the eve of his class reunion after many years. Richly varied, the stories stretch across geographies and time – there is one story based in the early 1800s.
In Mr. Oliver’s Diary, Christopher Oliver is a prep school teacher. This is his diary, covering a period of about six months. Written in an engaging style, the book has an interesting assortment of characters and escapades at school. Ruskin Bond has based this book on an actual teacher that he had in his boyhood days.
Advaita The Writer is the story of Advaita who moves to a residential girls’ school in Dehradun. Lonely, she finds solace in books. Her letters home speak of the mundane things at school. When she discovers that her favourite writer, Ruskin Bond, lives not far from there, she is thrilled. How she meets him forms the rest of the story.
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