It’s September and that used to mean Back To School. Today it happens more often in August, but I’m a traditionalist on this one. Labor Day is a good time to start school and Memorial Day is a great time to end it. Here then are my all-time favorite stories set in schools.
Not only is this one of my favorite books, by one of my favorite authors, but its also a great BBC Miniseries. Bamfylde is not Eton–it is more of a Middle Class-sons-of-accountants-and upholders-of-the-Raj sort of school, but it is the perfect landing place for shell-shocked Davy Powllet-Jones near the end of the First World War. Gently nurtured back to life by Headmaster Algy Harries and wife, “Davy” is taught to live again by the boys, then finds love and builds a life.School as community is the main thing in this story. If your kids had to go to boarding school, this is the type school you’d want. To Serve Them All My Days by R.F. Delderfield. NOTE: I refused to put up the awful new cover. It was apparently designed by someone who has never seen a traditional boys’ school. This is the cover my beloved copy has from the 1970s.
Like many adults, I love John Green. I first read Fault in Our Starts, but since fell even more in love with Looking for Alaska. Another boarding school story–this time an American one, that centers on the teenage mind. Perhaps because I had kids about the same age as those in the story it resonated so fully with me. “She said she still loved me. God, ‘I love you’ really is the gateway drug of breaking up” is the quote that stuck with me most. All the angst over being a part of a couple. The destruction this can wreck on young lives–and, of course, the joy, the sense of being loved it can also bring–simply overwhelms so many young people. Then there’s the invincibility of youth. Yes those things happen–but not to me, not my friends, not to us…… Finding Alaska by John Green.
The others are all books of privilege. This one is of a time and a place that readers are still stunned to learn was 20th Century America. Yamacraw Island off South Carolina had changed little since slave times when Pat Conroy taught there in the 1960s. He found students so like the children I met in rural Malawi that I wept when reading it. The disparity of wealth that Jonothan Kozol would later write about in another superb (non-fiction) book, Savage Inequalities, is perhaps even more vivid in this book. The extreme isolation of these children was remarkable even at the time it was published. The influence of one person on another person’s life is shown again and again here by the contrast between the old teacher and the new, younger teacher. The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy.
I loved the first two Harry Potter books. The lost little boy with the awful guardians was just so sweet. Then he arrives at this marvelous school–surely the Eton of all schools for wizards. Why they even had a very odd uniform, a special sport and a lot of their own words! And, lets face it, mud-blood or not, Hermione is pretty darned posh and Draco looks like an Etonian with his grim poshness oozing out. Defense of the Dark Arts? Spells and Potions? Magical creatures class? Who wouldn’t want to go there? Much better than anything MY school taught and it certainly beats Latin and Greek! Learning Quiddich, surviving the first days in your boarding house (dorm in America)–all so familiar and yet so exotic. Mounting a broom for the first time reminded me of the endless rope climbing I could never master in elementary school gym class. And the teachers! Snape was the mean one. McGonoagall the wonderful one and who could not obey a “principal” like headmaster Dumbledore? Plus Harry finds a great group of friends right off. Back-to-school shopping, train hopping, barrier-crashing, pet owls, barf-flavored candy beans–love, love, love! Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowlings.
But wait! I hear you yelling….You’ve left some out! What about………. and ………….. and you couldn’t leave out …………………………………… Another post my friends!
Have a favorite book with a school setting? Leave me a comment and tell me about it.