Book Chat #5 - Back to School
This week in England, the children went back to school. Life in school I can imagine is looking very different as children wear masks, continue to adhere to social distancing and for some, are in learning 'bubbles'. Teachers continue to do an amazing job, and all with the added challenge of catching up with lessons from lockdown, reassuring nervous children and ensuring children can continue to learn in a coronavirus aware environment.
A couple of my own friends have children starting school for the first time and it's a big day!! Of course the children have been absolutely fine, marching into school with barely a backward glance at Mum or Dad, meanwhile their parent wipes away tears, hopeful that these school years will be very happy. On my first day at school, my Mum said I marched in, barely looking back. At that time I could read, but on coming out of school and being asked if I enjoyed it said 'Well I didn't learn to read any more, so I don't think I'll bother going back tomorrow'. With all this in mind, I thought it might be fun to look at a couple of books based around school life.
I always re-read this novel around the start of the school year. Miss Read (the pseudonym of Dora Saint) is a teacher working in a 1950s rural school in the fictional village of Fairacre. It provides a fascinating insight into the challenges faced by schools of that time, with limited amenities and the threat of closure looming. Miss Read has a very dry sense of humour and it is a wonderful book about rural life.
Jack Sheffield has written a series of novels based closely on his own experiences teaching in a North Yorkshire School in the late 1970s/early 1980s and they are sooooo funny. The characters include a 20 stone caretaker with the voice of an angel and the biggest heart, a cafe owner and lead in the amateur dramatic association who is unable to pronounce the letter 'r', and Vera, the school secretary who is adept at sorting out the villagers problems and Jack's own complicated love life. My favourite character, though, remains Heathcliff Earnshaw, who on meeting the formidable local School Inspector says to her 'sit thee arse down 'ere missis'. Best of all it is wonderfully nostalgic as we learn all about the crazes of the time whether it is a hairstyle, toy, or latest TV programme.
I've included the first Harry Potter novel because it features the marvellous Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where Harry has most of his adventures. I always wanted to have a meal in the Great Hall, or learn how to fly on a broomstick taught by Madame Hooch. I love the House Common rooms protected by a portrait who will only admit you if you know the password. Best of all is headmaster Albus Dumbledore, a most unusual man, wise and with a penchant for sherbert lemon sweets. These books are magical and comforting.
The Other Side of the Dale by Gervase Phinn
This novel is the first in the Dales Series of books and covers Gervase Phinn's first year as a County School Inspector for North Yorkshire. Dubbed 'The James Herriott of Schools', Gervase Phinn writes about some great Yorkshire characters, children and adults alike. The first part where he is trying to find the village of Backwatersthwaite is hysterical.
I hope you've enjoyed looking through some of my favourite books about school. Please do let me know if you have any more suggestions.
Before I go, huge congratulations go to Maggie O'Farrell who has just won the Women's Prize for Fiction for Hamnet, a fictional account about the life of Shakespeare's son. The prize is now in its 25th year and O'Farrell faced stiff competition from Hillary Mantel and Bernadine Evaristo.
Photo credit: Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash