Friday, September 22, 2006


BEST SHORTS: FAVORITE SHORT STORIES FOR SHARING selected by Avi and Carolyn Shute, afterword by Katherine Paterson, illustrated by Chris Raschka (Houghton Mifflin)
A middle school teacher recently asked me if there was something he could read to a class he might only have for about twenty minutes once a week. What perfect timing for such a's a book that's solid platinum for anyone with not a lot of time but with a true booklover's heart! Great short story collections for children are few and far between, but just released is a title that's like a box of the most delicious chocolates, two layer's worth, so you just wont be able to help yourself from sitting back like a reclining maja and squishing each and every delicious one.

The collection is just brilliant, pulse-perfect and page-turning, from Louis Untemeyer's "Dog of Pompeii" about a pet who gives his all to save a blind boy during a volcanic eruption, the opening story "Rogue Wave" by Theodore Taylor which will leave readers as breathless as if they were watching any movie on the big screen, the time-travel brain-boggler "Lafff" by Lensey Nokoma, and ghostly stories to tickle both your funny bone and skeleton bone such as Andrew Benedict's "To Starch a Spook" or "The Caller" by Robert D. San Souci, in which a spoiled girl gets her come-uppance from the great beyond (who doesn't love a story like that?). I will not even describe the story by Megan Whalen Turner called "The Baby in the Night Deposit Box" because with a title like that, don't you want to read it and find out for yourself? You and your class or your family will not! Be able! To resist!

There are classics, too, like Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle," excerpts from The Peterkin Papers by Lucretia Hale and The Town Cats by Lloyd Alexander and the memorable and hard-to-find "The Lady or the Tiger?" by Frank Stockton. There is thoughtful multicultural representation, such as Issac Bashevis Singers' snowy adventure in a Jewish shtetl "Zlateh the Goat," and Francisco Jiminez account of being a young migrant worker excerpted from The Circuit. As a short story collection for intermediate and upper grade readers, I would have to say it is perfect. And why wouldn't it be? If you ever heard Newbery-winning author and reader's theater proponent Avi read aloud (which you will if you request a free cassette from the teacher section of his website), you would trust that you are in the hands of a master, one who really knows the worth of every word. In the meantime, these two dozen selections of humor, adventure, survival, historical fiction, science fiction and fantasy will make you the master. It's one of those rare books that makes anyone who reads it a better person, and anyone who reads it aloud a better teacher. (9 and up)

Also of interest:
EVERY LIVING THING by Cynthia Rylant (Aladdin) Short stories about people whose lives are changed through their contact with animals. (9 and up)
SING A SONG OF TUNA FISH by yours truly, Esme Raji Codell (Hyperion)Funny vignettes from 1970's Chicago that will inspire children to value and write their own real-life stories. (9 and up)

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.

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