Home Learning Resources

"School free" books for Children, youth, and teens

Most youth and teen books, TV shows, and movies are set in public school settings or are closely linked to the public school experience. Authors and show/movie producers consciously try to create links to common experiences such as homework, teachers, classrooms, prom nights, lockers, desks, note passing in classrooms, etc. in order to put their stories in a context that will be instantly attractive to their young readers.

One by-product of this conscious use of the school context is that the school experience becomes synonymous with the life of youth - there always was school, there always will be school, and school is the only way life works. By direct implication, school is presented as the right thing to do. And by default, every other way (namely home learning or simply not being in school) is somehow the wrong thing to do.

Such is the power of subliminal and not-so-subliminal messenging. "The medium is the message", Marshall McLuhan's famous thought, has a powerful implication for how youth and teens see the world.

Perhaps it might be good if youth and teens are exposed to fiction about other children who do not go to school? How can home learners really know at a deep level that their way is healthy and "normal" for human beings if they never see or read about children who thrive without school?

Books with children in the story line who do not go to school and where school is mostly absent from the story:

Age Group
Suggestion Contributor & Notes
Swallows and Amazons Arthur Ransome youth/teen - Tia Leschke
City of the Beasts Isabel Allende youth/teen - Tia Leschke
Mr. God, This is Anna   youth/teen - Tia Leschke
Jackie's Wild Seattle Will Hobbs youth/teen - Tia Leschke
A Wrinkle in Time (+) Madeline L'Engle youth/teen - Tia Leschke
Milkweed (+) Jerry Spinelli youth/teen - Tia Leschke
A Northern Light Jennifer Donnelly youth/teen - Tia Leschke
The Golden Compass (+) Phillip Pullman youth/teen - Paul Kurucz - Lyra lives in Oxford University - but never goes to school. First of a three part series that is breathtakingly creative fiction for youth - and their parents (I read it three times).
Z for Zachariah Robert C. O'Brien youth/teen - Stephen Tweedale - "... It's written as the journal of a teenage girl who lives on a farm in a valley, alone, after nuclear war has destroyed civilization. Her valley "has its own weather" and survived the war unscathed, but her entire family died while looking for survivors outside the protection of the valley. One day, she spots a column of smoke from a small fire... the next day it appears a bit closer. To find out what happens next you'll have to read the book!..."

The Thyme Garden (+)

Edgar Eager youth - Rosi Van Meel
The Railway Children E. Nesbit children/youth - Rosi Van Meel
Little Women Louisa May Alcott youth/teen - Rosi Van Meel
The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett children/youth - Rosi Van Meel
Island of the Blue Dolphins Scott O'Dell children/youth - Mickey Smeele
The Kin Peter Dickinson children/youth - Jessica O'Hara
Dragon's Bait Vivian Vande Velde teen - Jessica O'Hara
Hawksong (+) Amelia Atwater-Rhodes teen - Jessica O'Hara
Isis (series) (+) Monica Hughes youth/teen - Rebecca McClure -"(very sci-fi/fantasy) doesn't have much about school. Great books, imo. "
Narnia (series) (+) C.S. Lewis children/youth - Rebecca McClure
A Series of Unfortunate Events Lemony Snickey children/youth - Rebecca McClure - "...I know these books aren't to everyone's taste..."
Julie of the wolves Jean Craighead George children/youth - Rebecca McClure
My Side of the Mountain (+) Jean Craighead George children/youth/teen - Paul Kurucz - Famous book about a teen who goes off to live by himself in the woods on his family's land. How he survives and thrives. I have read this several times over the years. It is just as fresh to my youth-aged kids as it was to me at their age. This book is infamous in some circles - a much banned book in the USA due to its depiction of an independent rather than subservient boy.
Hatchet (+) Gary Paulson youth - Rebecca McClure
I am David Ann Holm children/youth (?) - Rebecca McClure
Incident at Hawkes Hill Allan Eckart children/youth - Rebecca McClure
Lord of the rings (+) Tolkien children/youth/teen - Rebecca McClure
Fog Magic Judy L. Sauer children/youth - Rebecca McClure
The Whipping Boy Sid Fleischman children/youth - Rebecca McClure
Sarah, Plain and Tall Patricia Maclachlan children/youth - Rebecca McClure
Just So Stories (+) Rudyard Kipling children/youth - Rebecca McClure
Green Knowe (series) (+) Lucy Boston children/youth - Rebecca McClure - "An old English Manor House where time travel is possible..."
The Dark is Rising (series) (+) Susan Cooper children/youth - Rebecca McClure
Earthsea Trilogy (+) Ursula Le Guin youth/teen - Rebecca McClure
The Chronicles of Prydian Lloyd Alexander youth/teen - Rebecca McClure
James and the Giant Peach (+) Roald Dahl children/youth - Rebecca McClure
Emily of the New Moon (+) L.M. Montgomery children/youth - Rebecca McClure "(the three books in this series are my favorite Montgomery books)"

Deltora (multiple series) (+)

  • Deltora Quest - 8 books
  • Deltora Shadowlands - 4 books
  • Deltora Dragons - 2 books written with 2 more to come
Emily Rodda youth/teen - Heidi Van Vliet - "All of the three series is about a boy (teen) on a quest and he has a man with him who was a guard and then a girl joins them as well...What I liked was that the boy and girl were the central figures and solved the problems and were the heroes rather than the man. It's a fantasy novel and there is some violent scenes where they defeat the enemies but I didn't think it was any worse than Harry Potter. The Deltora books were also much much easier to read aloud to Thomas and both of us enjoyed the story more than Harry Potter."
Surviving the Applewhites Stephanie S. Tolan children/youth/teen - Rosi Van Meel - "Another great book we read this summer is about a homeschooling family... Which I had to read too. We were laughing soooo hard!"
Mairelon the Magician (series) (+) Patricia C. Wrede teen - Emily Wolfe
Skellig David Almond youth/teen - Melanie McIntosh
Eager Helen Fox youth/teen - Melanie McIntosh
The Mad Scientist's Club (+) Bertrand R. Brinley children/youth - Paul Kurucz - 3 books, but not a series, per say. A group of boys who are independent, experiential learners who get up to all kinds of hijinks. A series of stories in the book. Each adventure has some element of amateur technology and some science/math involved in how they do their activities. Really free-to-get-on-with-it boys. Great fun for 8-14 year olds today. These books have just been republished and are available at Amazon.ca or likely through your library system.
Into the Forest Jean Hegland teen - Tia Leschke
Airborn Kenneth Oppel youth/teen - Paul Kurucz - Oppel's first human character adventure - and a great one about a teenage cabin boy aboard an airship. Some of the author's previous books - Firewing, Silverwing, and Sunwing (connected stories) are also excellent reads about the life of a young bat in a hard world. Oppel is a Canadian author to boot. The setting of Airborn - where the story starts - is Vancouver. Highly recommended!

(series) indicates that the title noted is part of a series. Note: Title shown may not be the first book in the series.

(+) indicates that there are other relevant titles by this Author

Age Group breakdown: Children: <8. Youth: 8-12. Teen: 13-18 years old.

Books in this list contributed by Wondertree Self-Design Program parents and home learners through the Program's on-line "Village". Thanks everyone!

If you know of other books you could suggest for this list, or would like to clarify/correct anything below, please your suggestions.


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