Middle school was an interesting time. My two older sisters moved out. I barely survived honors Spanish. A homeroom advisor told me about the Scholastic Arts and Writing competition.
Although I enjoyed reading as a kid, I didn’t enjoy reading in middle school much. There were exceptions, mainly the Ray Bradbury and Shirley Jackson tales. I wish we had read more of them.
I recommend what I consider the modern Bradbury and Jackson tales, which were written for adult audiences but considered good for us. These come from short story collections, online magazines, and podcasts. I did my best to include mainly POC authors, who wouldn’t be reprinted in the tiny booklets we received.
Please note that these short stories for middle school students weren’t written for children. They are what I believe is child appropriate, since they have little to no swear words or sexual references. if you disagree or find discrepancies, please comment below.
To be completely honest, I don’t remember what short fiction we read in sixth grade. Over the summer, we read Holes by Louis Sachar and Where the Lilies Bloom by Vera and Bill Cleaver. My class was snarky about the rest of the material, which included mainly historical fiction.
If I were assigning short fiction, I’d choose funny and short pieces. Roald Dahl’s work Matilda once mentioned that children laugh more than adults, and it’s true.
“How I Got Published” by Dominica Phetteplace
We need a dose of confidence sometimes when reading about success. In this case, the one needing confidence needs to decide who needs changing when no one wants her work. I love the bitter comedy, and the implications of world domination and change.
“Chivalry” by Neil Gaiman
An old retiree finds the Holy Grail and puts it on her mantelpiece. An Arthurian knight comes and tries to bargain for it. Mrs. Whitaker refuses, because all the mythical and magical gifts won’t look as nice over the fireplace. So Galahad has to get creative while helping Mrs. Whitaker with her slugs and household chores.
In seventh grade, you’re stuck in the middle of the younger and the older and dealing with huge changes. I was into darker stuff as a result, while writing fanfiction on the side. We read “The Most Dangerous Game,” which our class loved.
“What It Means when A Man Falls from the Sky” by Lesley Nneka Arimah
And what does it mean? Lesley Nneka Arimah woke up with this question in her brain. She seeks to answer it using science fiction, math, and trauma. The world, for better for worse, is changing, and we don’t know how to change with it. But we have to learn, and how to ride the waves that come. In this case, mathematician Nneoma has too many waves to ride, including her mother’s death and a break-up.
“Obscura” by Yoon Ha Lee
By this point, evil camera stories are probably a cliché. We know that we shouldn’t use cursed cameras. Besides which, we have our phones for photos, rather than what the professionals use. Sometimes cameras reveal things we can’t see with the naked eye. The nameless protagonist acquires a “broken” camera, but is told to never take pictures of people. It’s a question of how much denials we have in our lives.
Now we prepared for high school. Classes miraculously got easier, and the teachers less frustrated. It felt like a breath of fresh air before high school—and the process of growing up—started. I don’t remember the short stories from this grade either.
“Big Mother” by Anya Ow
Who hasn’t liked the thought of catching a big fish? These kids do. They go and try to get the largest ones from the river. There’s just a price for each catch. Big Mother, the titular snakehead, has the largest price on hand for her tormentors.
“Paralysis” by Claude Ecken
Current events have made this story sadly and scarily relevant. It’s a letter from a parent to a child who is going to jail for breaking rules. We find out these rules are disproportionate to the crime. Yet this generation’s kids need to rebel, to fight for their happiness. We need teachers discussing what is rebellion.
What other short stories for middle school students do you recommend? Post your suggestions down below! And find even more recs here.