Fictional characters offer vicarious return to school

A friend of mine recently texted me a picture of the iconic children's book character Miss Viola Swamp with the message, "I can't go into it right now. But I need to know what book this is from."

I quickly typed back, "Miss Nelson is Missing" by Harry Allard. Illustrations by James Marshall ("George and Martha," "The Stupids," all the good fairy tale retellings.) You're welcome."

This year more than any other, there is special comfort in reading about classrooms and lockers and teachers and friends. Even my kids are, grudgingly, nostalgic for cafeteria food, dodgeball and the unmistakable smell of the art room.

Picture books have lovely illustrations of classrooms and cupboards and chairs pulled close together for storytime. You might want to read your little one "The Day You Begin" by Jacqueline Woodson or "We Don't Eat our Classmates" by Ryan Higgins.

Grade schoolers will find much to giggle and relate to in "The Wayside School" series by Louis Sachar, Beverly Cleary's beloved "Ramona Quimby" books, and the boy prank classic "Frindle" by Andrew Clements. "The First Rule of Punk" by Celia Perez and "El Deafo" by Cece Bell beautifully capture the ups and downs of middle school.

Viewed from page or screen, you can experience some of those big high school feelings from a safe distance. Great high school reads include "Eleanor & Park" by Rainbow Rowell, "One of Us is Lying" by Karen McManus, and "The Art of Fielding" by Chad Harbach.

And, of course, the sounds and smells of college. (Though I feel as though I really reconnected with flannel pants, messy hair and yelling at my computer when I was working from home this spring.) If it's more of the "closer than six feet apart" kind of college experience you want to remember, check out "The Marriage Plot" by Jeffrey Eugenides, "Emergency Contact" by Mary H.K. Choi, "Normal People" by Sally Rooney and "The Dreamers" by Karen Thompson Walker

If numbly viewing someone else's attempts to navigate a class schedule is all you have the energy for right now, I see you. And I can heartily recommend binging on these amazing school-set series. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Felicity," "Degrassi," "Veronica Mars," "A Different World," "Freaks and Geeks," "My So Called Life" and "Friday Night Lights."

And, I have to put in a plug for a show that skews a little younger, available on Kanopy. (Grab your library card and sign in at Based on the books by Danny Katz, "Little Lunch" focuses on six students in an Australian primary school. They wear uniforms and sun hats and call their teacher ma'am, and their recess squabbles all happily resolve in 15 minutes. There's enough humor to keep my fifth-grader entertained and enough "big kids are cool" appeal to engage my second-grader. I'm in it for the well-behaved children and sun hats.

- Karen Keefe is the executive director at the Hinsdale Public Library.