Less is more
Here are 25 short stories chosen with care to make an anthology which can be kept and read for its own sake and not simply used as a quarry for classroom activities.
Guy Dunbar sees this as a developmental book: though the stories have currency for all ages, they are selected so that a third are best for year 7, a third for year 8, a third for year 9. Yet there are no hard and fast boundaries.
A gallery of the best in writing for young people - John Gordon, Penelope Lively, Jan Mark, Jan Needle, James Berry, Margaret Mahy, Robert Swindells and Robert Leeson share space with less expected writers such as Paul Jennings, Saroyan and Steinbeck - the selection shows its first criterion was actual literary quality.
The introduction states: "Most, but not all, focus on the experiences of characters in the age range of the intended audience": thus there is a traceable subtilising of situation from the very simple moral dilemma at the heart of Ann Cameron's lovely "The Pudding Like a Night on the Sea" to the riddling significance of Nicholas Stuart Grey's "The Star Beast", the penultimate story.
The care and thought which this selection suggests also indicates that it is backed up by deep reflection on long classroom experience. For that reason, I felt immediate confidence in the activities in the accompanying Developing Snapshots. An aim of each activity is flexibility: individual, pair and group work are all implied. The outcomes are not prescribed but the processes are carefully suggested. Each story is approached in a variety of ways leading to both spoken and written responses. In each case the focus chosen for the story is itself a critical response, seizing on an aspect which makes it different, gives it its particular originality and leads to its heart. The activities seem models for the developing of critical, understanding and alert readers.
There are many short story collections with accompanying work around at the moment, but there is much about this one to make it worth anybody's serious consideration for key stage 3 - and whatever else. I shall value the book itself as an excellent representative anthology of much that is best about writing for young people.