While picture books are always great writing models, short stories can be very effective, too, especially for the middle and high school classroom. Gary Soto’s classic Baseball in April contains eleven stories of adolescence. The collection portrays Hispanic characters in California dealing with universal themes of friendship, family relationships, and self-confidence.
“Growing Up” has a particularly compelling plot of a tenth grade girl who gets her wish of staying home from a family vacation. Yet while her family is away, she worries and regrets her decision. “Growing Up” should strike a chord with middle and upper grade students through its emotional center and imagined scenario of staying behind with your friends while your family travels. Ask your students to write about why they might want to be excused from a trip and if being mature means separating yourself from your family. What would they do at home on their own? Would their parents trust them to obey the rules? How would they feel about being separated from their parents for the first time? After responding in personal narratives, students could then go on to create a fictional character staying home from a family vacation.
Some students might want to make a comparison to the popular movie, Home Alone. A humorous approach is just as acceptable as a serious one, especially since in both the movie and Gary Soto’s story, family relationships and maturity are explored.
“Barbie” in Baseball in April should also resonant with students. This tale revolves around the acquisition of a longed-for doll with a disastrous result. Students should find plenty of inspiration to write about a time when they finally received an object they wanted only to have it ruined. Like the other short stories in this collection, “Barbie” is a great example of a clear beginning, middle, and end.
Short stories are a unique art form in that they establish a fully drawn character with a specific problem that is resolved in a few pages. Young writers often run into trouble when attempting fiction. They envision themselves writing a novel with hundreds of pages. But before you can tell a long story, you need to be able to effectively tell a short one. Reading and responding to short stories will help young writers strengthen their skills.