31 Classic Short Stories for Middle School Students
It can be a challenge to get young people interested in reading. At the sight of a thick novel, most students feel overwhelmed and are scared away by the time commitment it requires.
For this reason alone, the short story is a great starting point for those who don’t take to reading easily. They’re also great for fans of literature, providing a refreshing change of pace. The world of the short story can be experienced in one uninterrupted sitting, and the best short stories are every bit as engaging and resonant as the best novels.
I hope you find some new selections here. One of my favorite collections for students is Breaking Free: A Cross-Cultural Anthology. It has 31 short stories and 12 poems by authors from many different cultural backgrounds.
1. "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell
A man lost at sea swims to an island owned by General Zafoff. The two bond over their love of hunting, but the general reveals that, instead of animals, he hunts people. The general will not let the man leave the island unless he agrees to letting General Zafoff hunt for him. If he can elude him for three days, he is free to go.
2. "America and I" by Anzia Yezierska
An immigrant seeks a life of creative self-expression in America, but encounters disappointment and unfairness along the way. America and I vividly portrays the challenges of an immigrant. It deals with poverty and the role of charity.
3. "To Build a Fire" by Jack London
It's negative 75 degrees in the Yukon. A man travels on foot with his husky to meet up with some acquaintances. The going gets tough when he breaks through thin ice and soaks his boots.
4. "Black Boy" by Kay Boyle
A young girl in a seaside town becomes friends with a black boy who earns money by transporting people around the boardwalk on a chair. One day she has an accident while riding her horse. Black Boy comments on prejudice, childhood perceptions, and fantasy.
5. "Miss Awful" by Arthur Cavanaugh
Robert is a third grade student who finds out his teacher, Miss Wilson, is going to be away for a while. He likes Miss Wilson because she is fun and lenient. The substitute teacher, Miss Orville, is strict about completing schoolwork and maintaining order in the classroom.
6. "The Moustache" by Robert Cormier
Mike, who is 17-years-old, is going to Lawnrest Nursing Home to visit his grandmother. She has a chronic circulatory disease and a fading memory. He isn’t eager to make the visit, because he is worried that his grandmother may be having one of her bad days.
7. "The Green Leaves" by Grace Ogot
In an African village, a group of men pursue cattle thieves. Later, one of the villagers tries to steal from one of the dead thieves. The Green Leaves illustrates themes of greed, modernization, and community that work against the individual.
8. "A Visit of Charity" by Eudora Welty
A 14-year-old girl visits an Old Ladies' Home. She is trying to earn points as part of her duties as a Campfire Girl.
9. "The Lady, or the Tiger?" by Frank Stockton
Set in ancient times, a king has an unusual method of putting criminals on trial. The criminal is placed in an arena with two identical doors. Behind one is a hungry tiger, and behind the other door is a beautiful woman. The accused gets to open one of the doors, and chance decides whether he is guilty or innocent.
10. "The Treasure in the Forest" by H. G. Wells
Evans and Hooker are on a canoe approaching land. They trying to decipher a roughly drawn map they stole from a Chinese man after overhearing him talk about a treasure he had found and reburied.
11. "The Wives of the Dead" by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Two women who married two brothers and who live in the same household receive news that both of their husbands are dead. The Wives of the Dead deals with reactions to loss and blurs the lines between reality and dreams.
12. "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe
A man schemes to take revenge on someone who injured and insulted him. This is a dark story with a lot of tension. There’s suspense in the physical action (will the narrator’s revenge be successful?) and the characterization (is the narrator reliable?), making it an engaging experience that’s worth a careful reading.
13. "Night Drive" by Will F. Jenkins
As Madge is getting ready to drive to Colchester, she gets a phone call from Mr. Tabor, who asks her if she would drive his niece Eunice back home. She agrees but is uncomfortable. Mr. Tabor’s wife was killed on the road to Colchester along with another woman. Madge picks up Eunice and finds her off-putting and unsettling.
14. "The Wish" by Roald Dahl
A young boy attempts to cross a long carpet in his home, imagining it to be full of snakes and hot coals.
15. "A Burlesque Biography" by Mark Twain
Mark Twain goes back hundreds of years to describe some of the notables in his family line. A Burlesque Biography is a funny family history and when the reader realizes the subterfuge of the story it’s hard not to read it again.
16. "The Scholarship Jacket" by Marta Salinas
A 14-year-old girl is going to be awarded her school's scholarship jacket because she's been a straight A student for years. But an unforeseen a complication arises.
17. "The Story of the Bad Little Boy" by Mark Twain
A boy’s many misdeeds go unpunished as Mark Twain mocks of the cliché of moral children's stories.
18. "The Sentimentalists" by Morley Callaghan
A department store detective watches three women. Two young men bet on which is the thief.
19. "The Friday Everything Changed" by Ann Hart
A girl in a small town classroom upsets the boys by challenging a local tradition.
20. "The Veldt" by Ray Bradbury
A family lives in an automated house, which includes a virtual nursery that takes care of the children's needs. The children plot to keep things as they are when the parents decide to become more self-reliant and give up some of the technology.
21. "A Sound of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury
A group of people take a hunting trip into the past but must be careful not to do anything that could affect the future.
22. "All Summer in a Day" by Ray Bradbury
Humans are living on Venus. The children are eagerly awaiting an event that scientists have confirmed: it will stop raining for two hours, the only break from rain in seven years. The kids speculate about what the sun is like.
23. "Tobermory" by Saki
At a party, a man presents a cat that he has taught to speak. The cat embarrasses the guests by revealing things they’ve said about each other.
24. "Gabriel-Ernest" by Saki
A man encounters a feral boy who later infiltrates his home.
25. "Civil Peace" by Chinua Achebe
In post civil war Nigeria, Jonathan Iwegbu and his family rebuild their lives. This story deals with war, lawlessness, and the value of hard work.
26. "Araby" by James Joyce
A boy goes to a bazaar to buy a present for his crush, the older sister of his friend. Araby is one of the standout stories from the short story gold mine, Dubliners. It deals with alienation and transformation, has religious undertones and a characteristic Joycean epiphany ending.
27. "The Night the Ghost Got In" by James Thurber
In the middle of the night, the narrator reports hearing footsteps downstairs, causing his mother to call the police and his delusional grandfather to shoot one of the officers. This humorous story finds comedy in common things. It deals with absurdity and defiance of authority and social norms.
28. "The Elevator" by William Sleator
Martin, a 12-year-old, has moved to an apartment building with an old, small elevator. He tries to avoid it, but he lives on the seventeenth floor and doesn't want to look like a coward. One morning, an unusual lady rides the elevator with him, increasing his sense of dread and regret.
29. "Seventh Grade" by Gary Soto
It's Victor's first day back at school. He's preoccupied with Teresa and tries to get in her classes and "accidentally" meet up with her. His friend, Michael, is experimenting with a method for attracting girls.
30. "And Sarah Laughed" by Joanne Greenberg
Sarah has been preparing the farmhouse for her son Abel and his new bride, whom the family hasn't met yet. Sarah's husband Matthew is deaf, as are all of their children. They didn't learn sign language so their home has always been silent.
31. "Three Skeleton Key" by George G. Toudouze
The narrator relates the most terrifying experience he's had. He was working with two other men in a lighthouse. The night watchman woke everyone at two in the morning. A large ship was sailing right for them. It missed them but then came around and headed for them again. They tried to figure out what was going on. When they examined the ship with their binoculars, they were alarmed at what they saw.
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© 2013 Howard Allen