Discover the best light academia books with intellectual charm and a feel-good school-based aesthetic, blending both classic literature and contemporary works that take place in high school, boarding school, and beyond.
Here, you’ll get curated book recommendations, detailed book descriptions, and reviews from my own personal library and reading experiences.
First, I’ll clarify exactly what light academia books are, and how they differ from dark academia books. Then, I’ll share my top 3 recommendations, followed by details on all the best picks, so you can quickly and easily choose the best one for you.
Light academia books celebrate the pursuit of knowledge and love of learning in an academic setting, and their plots and themes are generally more lighthearted in nature, like learning a lesson or growing into one’s self. Many are written for a younger reading level, and many have historical settings, imparting a time when life was seemingly simpler and more innocent.
Dark Academia vs. Light Academia
Light academia books celebrate the pursuit of knowledge and love of learning in an academic setting, and their plots and themes are generally more lighthearted in nature and come with happy endings, like learning a lesson or growing into one’s self.
Many are written for a younger reading level, and many have historical settings, imparting a time when life was seemingly simpler and more innocent.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is a popular example of a light academia book in which four sisters foster their creativity as they come of age during the American Civil War.
To the contrary, dark academia novels most often take place at a school of Victorian gothic architecture, which is also prestigious and exclusive. Their storylines blend the good nature of intellectual pursuits with negative themes and the darker side of human nature, including moral dilemmas, violent acts, forbidden love, power struggles, and the like. This mix often results in narratives that are thrilling and mysterious.
The dark academia style is most often characterized by reference to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, in which a group of New England college students become obsessed with Greek and go down a deadly and immoral path as a result.
Top 3 Light Academia Books
Quick List of the Best Light Academia Books
First, if you’re extra curious or in a rush, below is a quick, shoppable list of all the books that made the list.
- American Girl “Learns a Lesson” Books
- Anne of Green Gables
- Goodbye, Mr. Chips
- Little Women
- The Royal We
- To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
- With the Fire on High
- You Should See Me in A Crown
Details of the Best Light Academia Books
Of note, I chose to focus on light academia books that actually have a school setting. I have seen many people recommend their favorite Jane Austen book for its cottage core aesthetic in this genre, and I don’t necessarily disagree with this, but I want my own recommendations to be more tailored to both of the words “light” and “academia” and how they work together.
Also, while many books that share the lighter side of a school setting are for younger readers, the children’s and young adult selections I made are the type of books that still appeal to readers of all ages. This way, everyone can celebrate the beauty of light academia together.
American Girl “Learns a Lesson” Books
My love for the American Girl books runs so deep from the 1980s to this day. Each historical doll (including Kirsten, Molly, Samantha, Felicity, etc.) has a series of illustrated books about her, including one in which they learn a lesson at school, often tied to the current events and circumstances of their time in American history. It’s all very lightly academic, even in difficult times in the world.
The Molly McIntire books are my personal favorite, so that’s the one I chose to feature here. In Molly Learns a Lesson, third-grader Molly works on a school project for the Lend-a-Hand Contest to help the war effort. Initially interested in her own pursuits, she learns the value of compromise and working together to make a broader impact.
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
The Anne of Green Gables series is a great example of light academia books in the classical literature genre. Anne of Green Gables is the first in the charming series for kids and kids at heart, introducing the reader to the 11-year-old red-headed orphaned spitfire named Anne Shirley.
She arrives at the Green Gables house of aging adult siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert mistakenly, as they had asked for a boy to help on their farm in the town of Avonlea in Prince Edward Island, Canada.
However, with a fierce temper and colorful imagination, Anne makes an impression on the Cuthberts and the townspeople of Avonlea.
As one may expect from her impoverished background, Anne is unrefined and lacks social graces. But, Anne’s journey becomes one of growth, as a beloved teacher recognizes her intelligence and helps her focus on her studies, later attending the Queen’s Academy and earning a college scholarship.
Thereafter, Anne chooses to place family and community before herself and, ultimately, she stays in Avonlea as a schoolteacher. From its education themes to its beautiful, historic settings, if this doesn’t scream “light academia,” I don’t know what does!
Related Post: Anne of Green Gables Books in Order
Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton
Goodbye, Mr. Chips is a long beloved book that reminds me of my childhood. He’s a traditional teacher who learns from a woman that teaching is about so much more.
As he opens his heart and develops a sense of humor, he becomes a memorable educator to his students. The heartwarming nature of this beloved classic has a great light academia aesthetic.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Little Women is my personal favorite of all classic books, and it absolutely oozes light academia vibes.
Readers of all ages can find comfort and warmth in this cozy family story of the four March sisters and their matriarch at home during the American Civil War, coming of age and exploring their unique creativity with the charm and simplicity of the time period.
Without giving too much away, so much of this novel is about the sisters’ pursuit of knowledge in their own ways, at times in school settings as well.
Related Post: Little Women Book Review
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Matilda is one of the most memorable books from my childhood (I can still recall carrying it around to class), and I know I’m not the only fan of this Roald Dahl classic.
Readers of all ages can enjoy Matilda, the precocious bookworm with telekinetic abilities, who has a challenging home life. At school, her kind teachers supports her special talents, but she must also face her tyrannical headmistress.
It’s a story of adversity in which Matilda learns the power of standing up against injustice.
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
Scholarship student Lee Fiora is an observant teenager from South Bend, Indiana, upon her arrival at the Ault School in Massachusetts, with rose-colored eyes for the school’s glossy brochure, with boys in sweaters and girls in kilts amongst stately brick buildings and meticulous green fields.
She is both intimidated and fascinated by her classmates, as an insider and outsider in their world. Then, her identity is shattered when she publicly self-destructs.
It’s not all roses, but ultimately, her experiences as a student, friend, daughter, and girlfriend can be said to be a portrait of each of us dealing with adolescence.
The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
The Royal We adds a dash of royalty to its light academia aesthetic, for fans of the love story of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
While it’s not exclusively a light academia book told solely about the pursuit of knowledge in a school setting, but also a story of royal love and romance, I still think it has the feel light academia readers are looking for, particularly because the protagonist, the American Bex, meets the heir to the British throne at Oxford University.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
New York Times bestseller
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the absolute sweetest diverse young adult (YA) story of the charming teen Lara Jean, who lives with her dad and two sisters after their mom died.
Lara Jean writes each of her crushes a letter about how she really feels and hides them in a box under her bed. Then, one day, Lara Jean learns that her letters have been mailed, causing her crushes from her past to confront her about her feelings — from her first kiss to the boy from summer camp, and even her older sister’s ex-boyfriend.
As Lara Jean deals with her lighthearted teenage angst, much of which comes in a school setting, she becomes close to one particular young man and wonders if her predicament isn’t so bad after all.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is compulsively consumable for both teens and adults who love that innocent feel, and it is also an absolutely adorable movie on Netflix.
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
Amazon Editors’ Pick
I can’t tell you how much I LOVED With the Fire on High. It’s since become the book I most often recommend to Philly teens, where the novel is set.
While its big-city setting lacks small-town charm, and while it does tackle some heavier plot points, it’s the main character that brightens its light academia vibes.
Emoni is a teen mom in Philadelphia grappling with motherhood and the decision between college and her passion for cooking amidst the backdrop of a diverse neighborhood. As with many teen books, her voice is unique, engrossing, and refreshing.
It’s kind of like Teen Mom mixed with your favorite cooking show and the Netflix show Never Have I Ever.
You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
You Should See Me in A Crown is one of the more modern and diverse light academia books out there.
Liz is a Black bisexual teen who has always believed she was too much of an outsider to shine in her small, rich Indiana town. So, she dreams of attending Pennington College, playing in their world-famous orchestra, and becoming a doctor.
When her financial aid falls through, she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. Although she wants nothing less than to participate in the prom court, she’ll do whatever it takes to go to Pennington.
She begins to fall for the new girl in school, Mack, who is just as much an outsider… but is also running for prom queen. And, just like that, prom may either keep Liz from her dreams or make them come true.
These light academia books celebrate the pursuit of knowledge and love of learning in an academic setting (often historical), and their plots and themes are generally more lighthearted in nature. While many are written for a younger reading level, they can captivate and charm readers of all ages.
To recap and help you decide what to read first or next, my top 3 picks are:
Share your own favorite light academia novel in the comments below.