Short stories

2nd June 2000 at 01:00
FLAME ANGELS. Edited by Polly Nolan. Mammoth. pound;4.99.

TALES WITH A TWIST. Edited by Mike Royston.

JUST IN TIME. Various.

SCOTTISH SHORT STORIES. Edited by Sheena Greco. Heinemann New Windmills. pound;6.25 each.

SKIN AND OTHER STORIES. By Roald Dahl. Puffin. pound;5.99.

TALES FROM THE WEST INDIES. Retold by Philip Sherlock. TALES FROM WEST AFRICA. Retold by Martin Bennett. TALES FROM CHINA. Retold by Cyril Birch. TALES FROM AFRICA. Retold by Kathleen Arnott Oxford University Press. pound;4.99 each.

THE ART OF THE STORY. Edited by Daniel Halpern. Viking. pound;20.

THE PENGUIN BOOK OF INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S STORIES. Edited by Kate Figes. Penguin. pound;7.99.

With the demands of the national curriculum reducing time for studying whole novels, good short story anthologies are invaluable. The best, as well as offering insights into the human condition, provide inspiration for pupils' own writing.

Flame Angels, an anthology of Irish writing, captures the flavour of modern Ireland from a variety of adolescent viewpoints. The title story, by Marilyn McLaughlin, is a masterpiece of economy; Michael Tubridy's "Freak" shows a brilliant pupil finding compassion, against all odds, for a cruel teacher; in "Climbing Mountains" by David O'Doherty, a friendly war and a summer climb on Achill Island help a boy to feel more confident about confronting his loutish classmates back at school. "Coming Home" by Dermot Bolger is, unusually, a tragic football story - of disillusionment for Shane, whose early promise isn't enough to turn him into one of the golden few. Joseph O'Connor, in "True Believers", tells a moving story in which a boy's loss of faith coincides with his discovery of strength in his father, who is struggling with lone parenthood.

Every story has something to commend it, and the cover is sophisticated enough to attract teenage browsers in the library.

New titles in the Heinemann Windmills series include Tales with a Twist, perhaps an unwise flagging of the contents, since successful twist-endings depend on surprise. With the reader forewarned, several of these stories fall flat, but Dick-King Smith's contribution, "Just a Guess", packs a punch in the last sentence.

Just in Time is a "tales for the millennium" collection suitable for 11 to 14-year-olds, and first published last year by Puffin. Ten stories by well-known authors such a Gillian Cross, Geraldine McCaughrean and Melvin Burgess are in chronological order, with settings from Ancient Rome to London in the near future.

It's a pity that the cover of Scottish Short Stories shrieks "textbook"; this is a strong collection that will appeal to the most sophisticated reader. Candia McWilliam gives a vivid, immediate account of potential disaster in a close-knit island community; Anne Donovan's moving story of a girl's relationship with her dying father, written in engaging Glaswegian dialect, invites reading aloud; Audrey Evans's "Mossy" depicts an austere teacher, on her last day at school, unwillingly drawn into a pupil's desperate home situation.

Some of Roald Dahl's best stories, originally published on Penguin's adult list, are attractively packaged for teenagers in Skin and Other Stories. The collection, including "Lamb to the Slaughter" and "Galloping Foxley", illustrates Dahl's wit and macabre humour, as well as his unexpected endings.

Oxford University Press has reissued several collections of retellings of traditional tales in paperback which will be useful for top primary and lower secondary classes. Each has a generous number of stories and is illustrated by Rosamund Flower. Children will be able to identify common themes in folk tales around the world.

Particularly enjoyable for primary children is the lively contemporary flavour of Tales from West Africa.

Two excellent anthologies published on adult listsare well worth orderingfor the English department. Daniel Halpern's hardback volume includes 78 stories, all by authors born after 1937. Here we have writers as varied as Edwidge Danticat, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Rose Tremain and Peter Carey. Particularly striking is Ken Saro-Wiwa's story, "Africa Kills Her Sun", told in the form of a letter from a condemned prisoner and suggesting an eerie prescience of his own execution in 1995.

Kate Figes's similarly multicultural selection from well-known and lesser-known writers includes worksfrom Margaret Atwood,Isabel Allende, Shena McKay and Tatyana Tolstaya. As many of them are novelists, the book would give sixth-form students an accessible introduction to a range offine writers.

I'll be keeping both these books for myself, for the pleasure of deciding what to read next.

Linda Newbery teaches English at Matthew Arnold school, Oxford

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