Boarding School Books

I first wrote this page in 2007 and it definitely needs updating. I’m consistently surprised at how many people check out this page and love this type of book as well.  I’ve definitely got newer titles to add to the list.  In the meantime, I’ve got a recent post up at The Hub featuring a look back at one of my all time favorite boarding school books, along with some other recommendations. Please check it out here:

http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/2013/03/05/that-was-then-this-is-now-and-both-were-young/

You might be surprised at how many books are set in a boarding school. Based on how many there are I know that I can’t be the only person out there who loves reading stories set there. In reality I think I would hate boarding school and I only know of two people personally who have ever attended one. But books have me believing they are lovely places, filled with midnight hampers, hijinks, and in YA books the kind of freedom one doesn’t normally experience until college.

Here is a list of boarding school books with a few notes about what I remember about them, or why the book was special to me. It’s not a comprehensive list of books of the genre by any means, but that’s because I’m not including books that I feel “eh” about. Sure, I know Spying on Miss Mueller was in a boarding school, but I barely remember the book and thus, that’s the last you’ll hear about it from me.

The Secret Language by Ursula Nordstrom–where it all started. I must have read this book way back in 2nd or 3rd grade, and reread it many times. Victoria and Martha are 8 year olds away from home. They form a fast friendship, complete with their own language and hideout in the woods. Vivid image? They dress as matching chocolate chip mint ice cream cones for a Halloween costume party. Difficult to have fun in, but worth it for being the best costume.

Luvvy and the Girls by Natalie Savage Carlson–this book had the exotic appeal of not only boarding school, but also nuns. Luvvy and her many sisters all attend a convent boarding school. So many things in this book fascinated me–a special snack from the nuns was bread with butter and sugar; the classes were Older Girls and Younger Girls; they were allowed to sit on a porch to dry their hair after they washed it once a week; fathers and brothers were the only males allowed to visit; Luvvy didn’t feel pious enough compared to many of the girls but prayed as hard as she could to save a goody goody named Agatha. Alas, Agatha died. *a reader notes that this is not actually true. Isn’t it funny that’s how I remembered it? Killing off the one child in my imagination?

And Both Were Young by Madeline L’Engle–this one formed my image of what true boarding school should be like. It was the school of my fanatasies–Lake Luzerne; skiing; a commons room; a wonderful sensitive teacher with a special cozy room. The European setting was so sophisticated to me, the love story made so much sense (why wouldn’t you just happen across someone in the snowy woods to whom you have a connection?), this was a treasured book in my personal library that I read over and over again.

Looking for Alaska by John Green–last year’s Printz award winner! A modern boarding school book-so very different from those first books I read, what with all the sex and drinking, sneaking out, etc. This is a moving and wonderfully written (see: best YA book of the year award) work. You can read more about it at his site or the Printz site.

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray–Ahhh, now here is a book that is so superb. It’s romantic, gothic, slightly supernatural, and at boarding school. This would make an excellent movie, though it’s so vivid in my head I don’t know that it could live up to anything on film. A British girl raised in India has visions and sees her mother die at the hands of…something. She’s packed off to an uptight class conscious boarding school in rural England. There she sees the exotic young man she saw in India. With three other girls she ends up exploring a supernatural realm and uncovering the school’s deep dark secret and how her mother was a part of it. I’m not sure I can convey just how entirely excellent this book is (which has a beautiful sensuous cover, to boot.) Everyone should read it! There is a sequel, Rebel Angels, which, of course, is not as good.

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett–One of my favorite books from childhood. The scene of their midnight feast sets the standard in my mind for such a boarding school standard. And Sara’s treatment as a wealthy student versus a charity case is just classic, an element repeated, as you’ll see, time and again. If you’ve somehow missed this story during your own childhood, go back and read it now. But please, only the edition with the illustrations by Tasha Tudor.

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling Clearly nothing needs to be said about these books at all, but I do include these on my personal list because the fact that they were all set in magical boarding school is one of the primary reasons I love these books. Diana Wynne Jones’s Witch Week also features a magical boarding school, and her books are also enchanting and funny.

Principles of Love by Emily Franklin– This is a new YA book, which I enjoyed, though honestly couldn’t tell you what happens at the end even though I read it only two months ago. Love is a teen whose dad is a new principal at a prep school. She has the double whammy of trying to fit in at a new school, as well as coping with her dad being the principal. I thought the relationship with her dad was very nice (amazon.com review says it’s Gilmore Girls-esque, with which I agree) and I did like the budding romances. Again with the modern boarding school–sneaking out to drink, as opposed to sneaking into your friend’s room to have a snack late at night. And on that note…

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld–This was one of the best adult books I read the year it came out. Lee is a scholarship student at an exclusive prep school. She tries so hard to fit in, but never really does. Even when she’s “dating” someone you can see that she’s just being used for sex. Throughout most of this book I just cringed for her, hoping she’d stop making foolish choices, and quit hanging out with some of the people she did. The big denouement in particular just leaves you thinking “I’ve wished all I could for you, Lee. If you are that stupid to blab to a reporter and not think it’s going to come back to get you, well, then I give up on you.” A lot was made of this book when it came out and how the author was a boarding school kid herself. Thus, when I read this I believed it to be a very accurate portrayal of current boarding school life.

Pulling Princes by Tyne O’Connell– …And here would be a less accurate portrayal. Or, maybe it’s accurate for some, but hard for me to imagine (which makes it all the more exotic and wonderful.) You know how in these books the girls’ schools are always having dances and mixers with a nearby boys’ school? Well imagine that because your school has lots of kids of famous folk and royalty, and so does the boys’, that you meet the prince of England at one of them? Yep, that’s what happens to Calypso. She also sufferes the “I-don’t-fit-in” fate of many of these protagonists, but don’t feel too bad for her. Even though she’s a fish out of water American, her parents are famous, too. This is a really fun book, with a few that follow it. Calypso is a likable character and it’s definitely fun reading about such a “posh” school.

Finding Hattie by Sally Warner–Here’s a book that really needs a personal recommendation. The cover and title are totally boring, (note to publishers: historical fiction doesn’t have to have ugly covers. See how lovely A Northern Light is?) but the story is anything but. Set in the 1880s orphaned Hattie lives with her somewhat awful aunt and uncle. She does get along with her cousin, Sophie, and they attend a young ladies’ seminary together. There Hattie experiences the age old struggle of finding her own way, making friends, and standing up for herself. There is a lot of prejudice against the charity cases (of which she is one), which seems to be something that shows up in these books regardless of which year it is set in. This had such great historical detail meshed with a lovely YA story, that I encourage you to look beyond the cover and give this one a try.

Bloomability by Sharon Creech–This 1998 novel was immediately appealing to me as it was reminiscent of And Both Were Young. Domenica is an American sent to her aunt and uncle’s boarding school in Switzerland, on the Italian border. She resents being there, struggling with learning Italian, and coping with her family’s apparent dismissal of her. Over the course of the year she makes wonderful friends from around the world, enjoys European experiences, and finds a loving family in her aunt and uncle. This is wonderfully fulfilling story. One of the ways it differs from And Both Were Young is that Domenica experiences Europe as a middle schooler who has never been there before. She is suitably impressed by the things she sees and experiences. In And Both Were Young, the character struggles to adjust, but the setting is not exotic and new to her.

My Latest Grievance by Elinor Lipman–The most recent adult boarding school book I’ve read, and it’s by an author I really like. Frederica grows up at a boarding school as both of her parents are dorm-parents. Her parents have always been super liberal and strove to give her a very loving upbringing, seeing the college as her family.–[I realize as I remember that this is set in a college, but I’m keeping it on this list because Frederica might as well be Love from Principles of Love] When Frederica’s father’s first wife shows up, she wreaks havoc on all their lives. I really enjoyed this portrayal of dorm life, family life, family secrets, and destructive people. A very good read!

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson-I put off reading this and when I finally did was thrilled with how boarding school-y it is, plus it has a fantastic somewhat supernatural mystery.

I’ve read many more since this list-you can see them under the “boarding schools” categoryhttps://sarahsbookjournal.wordpress.com/category/boarding-schools/

62 thoughts on “Boarding School Books

  1. Hello: I saw your site and have been looking for a book I read as a child. I was born in 1948 – the book was about a group of children that went to the woods and found a baby laying in a ring of trees. They didn’t tell their parents but took the baby to the woods and kept it in a sort of shack in the forest. Eventually they got caught – I am quite sure there was a private school or some sort of school involved.

    Does this ring any bells? I want so much to read it again.

    Heather Wilson – Victoria, B.C. Canada

  2. Hello Heather,
    The book you described doesn’t quite ring any bells with me. The only thing I could think of was “Baby Island”, but I”m pretty sure that’s not it. If you ever find out what this book is, I’d love to know!

    • Hi am Laiba: i read this book and i LOVE it pls tell me what it is:
      There are five bestfriends and they are in a boarding school called GCSE and thay have different houses such as hazeldean ect

      I hope if you know what book this is
      Please let me know
      Laiba

  3. Probably not specifically the kind of boarding school book you’re thinking of, but surely “The Catcher in the Rye” qualifies, as well.

  4. It’s funny I never thought of Catcher for this list given that it does have a boarding school and that is a book I love love loved. Thanks for reminding me!

  5. Many boarding school stories are based around themes of “loss on innocence” and “coming of age”. Then they get made into an independent film with “adult themes”
    Well, I actually went to a boarding school and it was pretty normal! Or maybe it was the fact that Langley school is set in Norfolk…

  6. The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman, and Back Home by Michelle Magorian are both fabulous boarding school books. I too adore boarding school books (though I would’ve been miserable attending a boarding school), so I’ll have to check out some of these that you’ve listed. Thanks!

  7. What a terrific list! I am tearing through boarding school books right now and wondered what to read next. Another that I didn’t see on this list is the Kate Brian YA series, Private. Very exclusive school, drugs and promiscuity and all that. I would love to get ahold of some of the old Enid Blyton books, too, like St. Clare’s. My public library doesn’t have any copies.

  8. I haven’t seen this Private series, but just checked it out on amazon. It looks great! Ask your public librarian to ILL you the Enid Blyton books-they should be able to get them for you! (for free!). I’ll have to look into them, too.

  9. Wow thank you so much. I am going to boarding school in the fall and I have been looking for books set there for ages!!! Thanks!!! Some books i have read lately that are set at boarding school are The It Girl. I realy enjoyed them!! Also although they aren’t boarding school books, the Gossip Girl series is at a private prep school and I liked them as well haha.

  10. You may enjoy Jane Beaton’s “Class”- a boarding school book for grown ups!! Information is available on Amazon UK.

  11. I’ve never read any of these books (except for Harry Potter, of course!) but I can see that boarding school books could easily become my new obsession. I already put “Finding Hattie” on my library reserve list.

  12. Hi!
    Well done with the list! I have just noticed that all main characters of every novel described here is female (a part from HP)….. do you think there is a particular reason?

  13. Hello! Looking for Alaska by John Green does have a male main character, but you’re right about it mostly being females. I’m pretty open to novels about boys/men, so maybe there just isn’t as much boarding school stuff published that’s about boys?? I’d certainly read a boys boarding school book if I came across one. I’m reading Viola in Reel Life right now, which is about a girl in boarding school.

  14. Hi Sarah,
    Thank you for your reply.
    I second you, as I actually think that there isn’t as much boarding school stuff published about boys, but it is funny, as I have the feeling that if it is based on a boarding school it gets compared to harry potter immediately!

    I am reading A Little Princess now, and it is a lovely one!

  15. Great to discover your list when I Googled. I’m actually writing a YA about a girl going to boarding school and wanted some titles. Don’t forget the classics–JANE EYRE, NICHOLAS NICKLEBY, TOM BROWN’S SCHOOL DAYS.

  16. Im trying to remember the title of a book I read when I was younger. It was part of a series but it was the first book I remember, It was about a young girl who along with her older sister and brother were orphaned, so they decide to leave england and set up a boarding school, which I believe was in switzerland. It was a lovely book and for the last few years I have been trying to remember its title so I could buy a new copy, does this by any chance ring any bells??

  17. You might read my novel, “Saving Miiss Oliver’s,” which is set in an all-girls’ boarding school. I based it on my own 40 year career in independent schools, including 2 boarding schools. It’s available at Amazon and at the above websiite

  18. Fun list. You might also take a gander at Beneath the Wheel by Herman Hesse. That has a male lead and deals with the pressures of personal potential (both internal and external) and loneliness. I am also very fond of City Boy by Herman Wouk. It is more of a public school and summer camp book but contains many of the factors that make for a good boarding school book.

  19. Hi. I found your site while I was trying to find information on a series I read as a kid. I don’t remember much about it except the following:
    1. Girl attend boarding school
    2. All kids have to give their allowance to a group pot and each gets an equal amount out of it when they go to the local candy store
    3. Main character gets in trouble when she arrives late and wet – but it was because she saved a boy who had fallen in a river. In the end, she’s a hero to the school
    4. Her rich cousin(?) joins the school but doesn’t put all her money in the pot.

    Does this sound familiar to *anyone*?

    • Tracy, It doesn’t ring any bells with me-hopefully someone will know it. if you find out will you post the title? Thanks!

      • barbylucedistelle – YOU DID IT!!! oh thank you thank you thank you!!! I have been trying to remember this series for *years.* I had posted to amazon a couple of years back in hopes of someone knowing, but didn’t work. Sarah – thank you for creating this site because without it, i wouldn’t have finally found my answer. thank you!
        Years ago, I lost a box of books to flooding.. i was so stunned, i never thought of going through the box and recording titles.. i was in shock. This series was in there. Now i can recollect it.
        You have made my .. my month! thank you!!!

      • Hooray! I know that wonderful feeling of finding out what something once forgotten was, I’m so glad someone out there in the world knew this one!

    • Hey! This sounds VERY like the Naughtiest Girl in the School series by Enid Blyton. Check it out and see if it rings a bell!

  20. Pingback: Anyone know this book? « The Last Book I Read

  21. Hi – I’m trying to recall the title of a book I read as a girl in the early 80s. The main character goes to boarding school and befriends another girl named Ebbie Faber. I think she somehow feels inferior to Ebbie and the other girls, at least at first. Perhaps they’re rich and she’s not?

    Unfortunately that’s about all I can remember … does this ring any bells for anyone? Thanks!

    • I’ve been looking for this one, too! The main character is from a fairly working class family, as I recall. I remember the scene when she comes to the school for the first time and sees all the fancy European cars and says something about hers being the only old American one in the lot. I hope someone knows what it is…

    • I’m trying to remember that one too. The title might have been a play on the Carl Sandberg poem about the fog coming in om little cat feet. Ebbie is a depressed rich girl from a family who made their fortune in pencils. I’ve been trying to find this one for years!

      • “Orange” posted it further down on the thread… it’s called “The Fog Comes on Little Pig Feet” by Rosemary Wells. I can see the cover in my head now! Given my daughter is deciding whether or not to go to boarding school herself, I think I’ll wait until she’s there and having fun before I give it to her… haha.

      • I saw that after I posted and ordered it from Amazon last night. It’s already shipped so I should be reading it come Saturday!

  22. Really need to which book this is! Went through your list but didnt find it.

    A boys boarding school…the book starts out with one boy (there may be 2 main characters though) taking or thinking about some prank played with the flag staff in the school…definitely a funny book. Any clue?

  23. Don’t forget about Canby Hall by Emily Chase. It’s about a all girls boarding school. I spent many wonderful hours reading those books in junior high.

    Does anyone know the name of the series about a boys boarding where there’s 2 best friends and they get into all sorts of trouble? In one book, they held a rummage sale and sold things they shouldn’t (ex. a hurricane lamp that they stole from the all girls school) have to save their school or they learned how to play the stock market to make money? It’s a really funny series.

  24. When I was about 13, I loved Rosemary Wells’ “The Fog Comes on Little Pig Feet.” Originally published in the early ’70s, and judging from Amazon, it appears to be out of print.

  25. hi! I just wanted to say this is a REALLY AWESOME page and you just added 9 books to my reading list (I’m about to turn 13 so i thought I should wait on a few of these). Thank you SO MUCH for posting this!

  26. hi, i have been looking for a book for a while hoping you can help.
    i can remember a few details but I’m not sure how correct they are.
    i believe the main characters name was Sam, her mum had left her and her dad, her dad work for the local weather channel. its begins with Sam and her dad driving to the boarding school where Sam will be attending.where dating is not permitted. Sam is quickly befriended by her roommate but still feels like she doesn’t fit in. one day when she was in the office the receptionist ask her if she would like to come over for tea. from there she meets the receptionist son and they begin a secret romance until the relationship is discovered by another jealous student
    any clues which book i may have read?

    • Hi Gemma, I wish I knew what that was -it sounds great. Reminds me a tiny bit of And Both Were Young, but definitely is not that. Anyone??

  27. This is an awesome list! A somewhat newer book that I didn’t see on this list is “The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks” by E. Lockhart. I highly recommend it!

  28. i am looking for the title of a co-ed boarding school based in the usa. it was an experimantal co-ed school where there wasn’t any rules and the kids could pair up if they wanted too. it wasn’t summerhill and i believe the school started with an h. the whole school was set up as an social experiment back in the 60,s. a sequel was written and as i remember this school exsisted.

    • Beth, I was just about to add a recommendation for “Apples Every Day” by (I think) Grace Richardson to this list. Could that be the book you’re thinking of? It’s about a co-ed progressive boarding school where the students largely plan their own classes, etc. I absolutely loved it as a pre-teen (and coincidentally or maybe not ended up attending a college very much like it!). As far as I know there was no sequel, though.

      • Thank you Kristi!! “Apples Every Day” is the book I was looking for and why I came to this list! I loved it when I read it in the early 70’s. I couldn’t remember the title–just new it had apples in it 🙂 I’m ordering it now from my library with an inter-library loan (too expensive from Amazon.com), so hopefully will have it in a few weeks! Yay! “Daddy Long Legs” by Jean Webster is another of my favorite boarding school stories.

  29. Hi I accidently founf this webpage while looking for boarding school books and it’s amazing. I would like to mention a really goodseries about bardig schools which i read the first of on holiday last year. The series is Secrets at St judes. Its about an american girl who goes to boarding school in Edinburgh and meets some new friends Niffy the tomboy, A my the clothes obsessed, rich daddys girl and min the nerdy girl.
    The books are:
    1. New Girl
    2.jealous girl
    3.drama girl
    4.rebel girl
    the books are written by Carmen Reid and they are amazing

  30. I have been looking for a book that is set in a boarding school, there are three main charterers and the book is divide into three section. The first part deals with the main charterer and her parent’s are dead and she fall in love with a new male teacher. The seconded part is about one of there friend who is raped on her 18th birthday party and she lives near to the boarding school that is set closes the woods. And the last part deals with the last character and moms die and the stepmom try’s to losses her in a shop when she was smaller and then runs away to pairs and to come a singer in a club. Can any one help me with the title of the book.

  31. wow this is an awsome list I love bording school books and this was really helpful I’m a little young for some of them but they look really good. hey Terri I think the one about two boys is MacDonalds hall by gordon kormon.

  32. Sarah,
    I love this list but I just read Natalie Savage Carlson’s “The Half Sisters” and “Luvvy and the Girls”, and you made a couple of mistakes when you were writing about them. In “Luvvy”, Amy is the goody-goody, and Agatha gets sick but doesn’t die. Luvvy’s little sister Maudie died in the first book.

    Other than that, great list and thanks for posting it!

  33. Bloomablity was one of my favorite books growing up! (And I didn’t read Looking for Alaska until post college, but it’s one of my favorites now too.) Love this list!

  34. “Charlotte Sometimes” not only has boarding school but time travel. “A Separate Peace” is a boy-centric book, I just can’t recall if they’re at a boarding school.

    • I only recently heard about Charlotte Sometimes and I’ve been dying to read it ever since!! I haven’t read A Separate Peace since high school, but it was at a boarding school. I started reading Paper Covers Rock recently and it reminded me of it, but unfortunately I just couldn’t get through it.

  35. I’m sure you’ve probably read at least some of these, but if you haven’t let me recommend the ‘Chalet School’ books. They’re set in Austria, England and Switzerland and while they aren’t modern if you haven’t read them you should give them a try, there are about 55 of them!

  36. If you truly love boarding school stories (as I do too having cut my teeth on the St Clares and Malory Towers Series), I would love to recommend, The Firestone Crystal and The Hidden Realms of Firestone.

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