Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Rule of Exceptional School

In my upcoming novel, Ebenezer's Locker, an ordinary public school has some unruly spirits floating around. I've been thinking a lot lately about the prominence of schools in middle-grade literature. On the face of it, you'd think kids wouldn't want to read about schools. I mean, reading fiction is their chance to escape. So why pray for snow days even in April, yet choose books---especially books with fantastical elements---that take place in school?

But I've noticed a recurring theme in the more popular MG novels about schools: They all make schools into an extraordinary thing. Look at Trenton Lee Stewart's Mysterious Benedict Society, where a handful of students are specially recruited into this boarding-school-cum-adventure-operation. The same sort of thing happens in Gitty Daneshvari's School of Fear, in which the kids' oddest characteristics are turned into their greatest strengths.

Oh, and I've heard a few mentions of another series that's met with some success... Something about a school for wizards?

My theory is that kids long for the day when going to school is an amazing experience. They want it to be a place where they feel special, as if they have unique abilities that are necessary for saving the world. Of course, they really do, but schools don't always make kids feel that way.

What other middle-grade fantastical novels have you read that are based in schools?


  1. I think some of it has to do with how much time kids spend at school, too. It's what they know, and it's fun to read about something you're familiar with made into something cool. I'm interested to see what others have to say about this topic - and the list of novels it generates. I need a MG reading list

  2. School is also a home away-from-home and family. Little ones (=PBs) have their world centered on family. In MG the world begins to expand. By the time you get to YA, you might find the MC going to New York and going underground...
    Enjoyed your post.

  3. School really helps readers connect and relate to the characters.

  4. Well, they all feel special when I teach :)

    Hmmm, my ego seems to have emerged again...

    I also think school is a familiar environment where the action can take place. Even in Hogworts there are familiar things - lessons, tests, strange rules that no one understands - to hang to when the wierdness appears. This puts the watcher straight in the shoes of the heroes and gives you immediate empathy and identification.

  5. I agree, Anne, children want to feel that 'School' in their fantasies is something special, something magical, something adventurous. Also, they spend the most part of their days in school, and hang out with friends, and get to face many sorts of conflicts (e.g. bullies, peer pressure, homework!) there. If there's any place they'd want to change, or feel better about themselves in, it's their school. Maybe it's like us fantasizing about our other writerly selves saving the world from sorrow ...

    MG fantastical novels based in school ... I'll come back to this once I have anything. =)

  6. You are very right! The Percy Jackson series begins in school and then goes to Camp Half-blood, which is like a school, too. I think it's a popular setting because kids can relate to it. There's that instant sense of, "Yeah, I know what that's like."