Why Short stories can help Reluctant Readers by Harriet Whitehorn.
“Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get,”-so said that great philosopher of the twentieth century, Forrest Gump. The simile can as easily be applied to a collection of short stories, and for reluctant readers they offer an enticing variety of bitesize treats.
I am a huge fan of short stories; I frequently choose to read them over novels. I also read short stories a lot when I was growing up, both as a young teenager and as a child. In a world before YA fiction had been invented, short stories were a great option for a bored fourteen year old, and I devoured ghost stories by MR James, as well as short story collections by Daphne du Maurier and Roald Dahl.
I’m not sure if I’m right but there did seem to be many more collections of short stories for children around in the 1970s. When I was a middle grade reader I had as many collections of stories as novels. The Little Book Room by Eleanor Farjeon was a particular favourite and many of the books popular then, like the brilliant Family at One End Street by Eve Garnett, were written in a short story format. I also suspect that, because in the 1970s reading was a more established part of every day life for children, authors and publishers perhaps focused more on getting all children interested in books and not just concentrating on the natural readers.
So why are short stories perfect to lure reluctant readers into the wonderful world of fiction? For a start, and not to state the obvious, they are short. They are therefore much less daunting. Also a novel takes time to get into, whereas a short story can be slotted nicely into a quick read before bedtime, and then finishing it gives that all important sense of achievement – Look! Well done, you have finished a whole story! As importantly, this brevity also means that there won’t be time for the author to get bogged down in long boring descriptions, so the plot will be pacy, the dialogue snappy, and the character descriptions on point. And I think that detective stories, which are very plot driven, particularly lend themselves to the short story format.
The other great advantage of a collection of short stories is their variety of locations, plots and characters, as well as writing styles. Mystery and Mayhem will catapult you back and forward in time, transport you from England to America and bombard you with variety of crimes from dog-napping to a poisoned pineapple. They are also a great introduction to an author’s work and might just persuade a child to give one of their novels a go.
So, if you are standing in a book shop or a library, short story book in hand, trying to convince your reluctant reader, (and believe you me, I have been in that position), you can say,
“Look they’re really short and there is bound to be some stories you like in there. And if you hate a particular you can always move on to the next one!”