We’re close to the start of a new school year. Here are some books by authors appearing at this year’s Vancouver Writers Fest (October 17-23) in which schools play a pivotal role in the life of the characters.

Tales of a Seventh-Grade Lizard Boy by Jonathan Hill

Trying to fit in at school can be a rough experience for anyone, but even more so if you’re, well, not even human. Booger Lizk’t lives with his lizard family deep below the Earth’s surface, but one day, they have to flee their community for good and survive among humans. The Lizk’t family of Elberon now passes as the Tomkins family of Eagle Valley. “Tommy Tomkins” wears a human face to school but he still doesn’t fit in. He’s bullied by students and has to endure watching a TV show in which outer-space lizards invade the Earth. Only Dung Tran, an immigrant from Vietnam and fellow outsider, sees Tommy for who he is inside and now Tommy wonders whether their friendship can survive the truth. Author Jonathan Hill draws on the experiences of his Vietnamese American family to tell us a funny and insightful story about the immigrant experience and the perils of middle school. Grades 4-7  

Swim Team by Johnnie Christmas

We all have things that scare us and test our limits. Facing such challenges alone can be hard, but when there’s a community of well-wishers around you, things are a little easier. In Johnnie Christmas’s middle grade graphic novel Swim Team, we meet Bree, who is excited about studying at a new school, but then she’s stuck with the only elective that fits her schedule, the dreaded Swim 101. Swimming scares Bree, but thankfully, Etta, an elderly occupant of her apartment building and former swim team captain, is willing to help. Bree trains hard with Etta and soon a community of well-wishers is hoping that Bree can turn the school’s failing swim team around in their match against the prestigious Holyoke Prep. It will take all that Bree has learned and then some more to achieve this feat. This is a heartwarming and uplifting novel about the importance of community and facing one’s fears. Grades 4-7   

In the Key of Dale by Benjamin Lefebvre

The title of this book is In the Key of Dale and it is to indicate that the protagonist – sixteen-year-old Dale Cardigan – very much marches to the beat of his own drum. Dale is a loner, invisible to everyone at his all-boys high school. He doesn’t relate to the boys at school, his stepbrother or even his mom, who doesn’t notice Dale’s musical skills. Rusty, his classmate, is the only one Dale befriends by chance and who gets a rare look at Dale’s complex life outside school, like his habit of writing letters to his dead father. In these letters Dale tells his father everything he can’t bring himself to tell his mother and also the unexpected developments that are taking place in his life, such as his growing attraction to Rusty, which seems doomed to remain one-sided. However, when Dale stumbles upon a family secret, it is to Rusty that Dale turns for help. In the Key of Dale is profoundly moving coming-of-age book about a boy who finds a way out of his grief and loneliness, toward the melodic light of adulthood. Grades 9-12