The best fiction books set in boarding schools

Who am I?

As the author of comedy cosy mystery novels, including a series set in an eccentric boarding school for girls, I’m always attracted by the notion of closed, clearly-defined worlds as colourful settings for stories of crimes and misdemeanours. Having worked for 13 years in a girls’ boarding school, where I loved being part of its lively and spirited community, I am very familiar with the quirks and foibles, as well as the practicalities, of boarding school life, and I really enjoy reading other people’s impressions and interpretations of boarding schools of all kinds. 


I wrote...

Dastardly Deeds at St Bride's

By Debbie Young,

Book cover of Dastardly Deeds at St Bride's

What is my book about?

When Gemma Lamb takes a job at a quirky English girls’ boarding school, she believes she’s found the perfect escape route from her controlling boyfriend – until she discovers the staff is hiding sinister secrets: Hairnet, eccentric headmistress who doesn't hold with academic qualifications; Oriana Bliss, Head of Maths and master of disguise; Joscelyn Spryke, the suspiciously rugged Head of PE; creepy night watchman Max Security; even McPhee, the school cat, is leading a double life. Tucked away in the school’s beautiful private estate in the Cotswolds, can Gemma stay safe and build a new independent future, or will past secrets catch up with her and the rest of the staff?

Previously published by the author as Secrets at St Bride's.

The books I picked & why

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Jennings Goes To School

By Anthony Buckeridge,

Book cover of Jennings Goes To School

Why this book?

This was one of my favourite books when I was a child, and it still makes me laugh even now. On first reading, I was immediately captivated by the witty depiction of the closed world of Linbury Court Preparatory School, a traditional boys’ boarding school inspired by the school at which the author had taught. The endearing central character of Jennings is well-meaning and spirited, but his mad-cap schemes, in which he is aided by his chum Darbishire, inevitably backfire with hilarious results. I especially loved the language of their schoolboy banter, eg “what a wizard wheeze!” for “what a great idea”. Although first published in 1950, it’s still a very entertaining read.

Jennings Goes To School

By Anthony Buckeridge,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Jennings Goes To School as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Hurrah for St. Trinian's

By Ronald Searle,

Book cover of Hurrah for St. Trinian's

Why this book?

Many people will be familiar with the two series of comedy films, one made in the 1960s and the other in the 2000s, and I highly recommend going back to the series of books that inspired the spirit of the films. Cartoonist Ronald Searle dreamed up this anarchic school and drew hilarious cartoons satirising head teachers, staff, and pupils. Another product of the mid-twentieth century, his wicked observational humour is still fresh and funny. Once you’ve enjoyed his iconic St Trinian’s cartoons, you’ll never see a girls’ boarding school in the same way again!

Hurrah for St. Trinian's

By Ronald Searle,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hurrah for St. Trinian's as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

HURRAH FOR ST TRINIANS Hardcover– January 1, 1954 by RONALD with foreword by Lewis, D B Wyndham SEARLE(Author)


Down with Skool! A Guide to School Life for Tiny Pupils and their Parents

By Geoffrey Willans, Ronald Searle (illustrator),

Book cover of Down with Skool! A Guide to School Life for Tiny Pupils and their Parents

Why this book?

This is the first of a series written by Geoffrey Willans about the fictional boys’ boarding school, St Custard’s, and Willans’ hilarious wordplay is the perfect complement to Ronald Searle’s cartoons. It’s a spoof guide to surviving the English public school system, told in the voice of one of the pupils, Nigel Molesworth. As with Jennings, its vocabulary is a delight, enhanced by Molesworth’s misspellings and catchphrases, eg “as any fule kno”. I enjoyed this first as a child, but my whole family found it entertaining, and it’s still a go-to book for whenever you need a good laugh. 

Down with Skool! A Guide to School Life for Tiny Pupils and their Parents

By Geoffrey Willans, Ronald Searle (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Down with Skool! A Guide to School Life for Tiny Pupils and their Parents as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

If headmasters were honest a prospectus would be a book which sa how many kanes he hav, contane a warning about the skool dog and the amount of prunes and rice served during the term.

Nigel Molesworth may not be the best student St Custard's will ever have, but he is certainly able to express his feelings about his beloved school - not to mention botany walks and foopball. With his handy guide to Masters at a Glance (Know the Enemy) and Lessons (chiz chiz) and How to Avoid Them, no noble brave fearless etc. boy will ever have to…


The School at the Chalet

By Elinor M. Brent-Dyer,

Book cover of The School at the Chalet

Why this book?

Moving on now to something more serious, this is the start of a very long and very popular saga set at a girls’ boarding school, founded in the 1920s, by a pair of sisters without any apparent qualifications, in a Swiss chalet, as a means of supporting themselves. It’s a children’s book but has a huge following among adults, with its many adventures featuring an ever-changing range of pupils and teachers from all over the world. They’re now very dated (not least for their cavalier attitude to health and safety and indeed towards education), but they have a timeless charm.

The School at the Chalet

By Elinor M. Brent-Dyer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The School at the Chalet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Madge Bettany's plan to start a school in the mountains of the Austrian Tyrol is very exciting for her younger sister Joey - because Joey will be the first pupil.


Picnic at Hanging Rock

By Joan Lindsay,

Book cover of Picnic at Hanging Rock

Why this book?

Finally, a serious, sombre book, and a modern classic. Set at a strict boarding school for girls, Appleyard College in Australia, it tells the story of an ill-fated outing to a local beauty spot at which a teacher and two pupils go missing. Lindsay brilliantly sets up the mystery with all kinds of backstories, and (plot spoiler alert) it’s never truly resolved, but the haunting story lingers with the reader long after they’ve finished the book. This has also been made into a film, but as always, it’s worth reading the original story – Lindsay’s writing is as evocative as any film. 

Picnic at Hanging Rock

By Joan Lindsay,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Picnic at Hanging Rock as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

**A BBC BETWEEN THE COVERS BIG JUBILEE READ PICK**

'A sinister tale' Guardian

The classic, atmospheric Australian thriller about the mysterious disappearance of a group of young girls.

A cloudless summer day in the year nineteen hundred...

Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, a group of three girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing on through the scrub into the shadows of Hanging Rock. Further, higher, till at last they disappeared.

They never returned.

Is Picnic at Hanging Rock fact or fiction? Only…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in boarding schools, criminal investigations, and school?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about boarding schools, criminal investigations, and school.

Boarding Schools Explore 60 books about boarding schools
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