I shan’t beat about the bush. This is not how it was supposed to be. I have just spent most of the afternoon writing a blog on the use of short stories in KS2 and lost all of it just before publishing. This is take 2 with some of the heart removed. Apologies.
Out of deference to the craft of the short story writer, I had kept the blog spare and – hopefully – elegant. Me being me, that meant it took longer than usual.
In the original, I spoke about my favourite short story writers as an adult reader:
- the creeping dread of M R James
- the chilled precision of Shirley Jackson and her alarming honesty
- recent discoveries such as Lucia Berlin – razor sharp; Carys Davies (thank you for the recommendation Mary Roche)
I went on to speak about why short stories are so valuable in our classrooms. The benefits they offer when time is pressed. The joys of re-reading – especially if something surprising or unexpected has happened. The importance of gaining a sense of what makes a complete (or deliberately incomplete) narrative. The benefits they offer regardless of anything else.
A good short story is as good as it gets. The team I work for often speak of poetry as being a great vocabulary booster. Each word and phrase – to paraphrase Coleridge – really has to earn its place on the page through deliberation and refinement. This, too, is true of the best short stories.
I also included a quote from Graham Greene whose choice of pronoun precludes some of the greatest craftspeople who have worked with this form. Still, I like the central point of the quote, so here it is:
“With a novel, which takes perhaps years to write, the author is not the same man he was at the end of the book as he was at the beginning. It is not only that his characters have developed–he has developed with them, and this nearly always gives a sense of roughness to the work: a novel can seldom have the sense of perfection which you find in Chekhov’s story, The Lady with the Dog.”
― Graham Greene
I also referred to Doug Lemov’s useful blog on the same matter. In fact the original blog came about when a colleague asked if Lemov’s reading lists were suitable for primary: in most cases – no! Not at all. No. No. No. Use Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find in Year 4 and you’ll have not-so-merry hell to play with. It doesn’t matter how maverick you might like to think yourself, the complaints won’t be worth it.
Finally I mentioned the renewed focus on the influence of reading, and of the importance of audience and purpose, in this year’s statutory teacher assessment writing frameworks. Short stories provide access to the tricks and patterns of contained narratives – the more of them we can share, the richer the reader/writer. Some will be rejected; some might be met with indifference; some will surprise, delight or shake up our students and just as the story was crafted by its writer, the reader-writer is crafted by the story.
So here is the central element of the blog, safely unscathed in PDF form:
Some titles are more mature than others – be it in terms of reading challenge or nature of content. Please preview prior to sharing in class.
I have several classroom favourites on the list:
- Once Upon a Place, partly because it gathers a bevy of Irish writers; largely because it is brilliant and PJ Lynch provides an illustrator’s cherry on top. I shall be sharing an especially enriching lesson idea soon that takes one of its stories and wrings some very deep thinking from it. Watch this particular space.
- Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror riffs on M(ontague) R James quite brilliantly and the opening chapter is a masterclass in rising dread (the personification makes a cracking guided reading session).
- Nikki Gamble’s Story Shop contains – amongst many other gems – Ray Bradbury’s brilliant All Summer in a Day. I have already written about this sublime story here but that blog was about grammar. This story – like all others – is very much more than a grammar exemplar. It offers up stunning writing, challenges children’s preconceptions of what good writing actually looks like, and then the ending thoroughly messes with their moral compasses.
So there we go. Not the blog exactly as intended but it will do. I hope the list is useful but it is far from exhaustive. Do let me know of any criminal omissions and they shall be duly added.
Thank you for reading. I hope that you get to enjoy some of the suggestions.