When it comes to reading, middle school is an odd segue between overly-franchised series (think Harry Potter, Percy Jackson) and officially graduating into adult literature. That said, this odd gap of adolescence is integral to the development of a deeper understanding of literature and one’s development of a reading practice. Here is a list of 15 short stories that are appropriate for budding middle school minds.
1. “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes
This melancholy tale revolving around the danger of interfering with human nature is told simply and powerfully. Middle school students will be able to interpret the “aboutness” of Flowers for Algernon while also being exposed to deeper and more mature tones of literature.
2. “Harrison Bergeron” by Ray Bradbury
This short story is a strong example of satire and irony and is a solid introduction to literature intertwined with political aim. The metaphors of “chaining” characters so that everyone will have equal abilities is striking and intelligent.
3. “Rules of the Game” by Amy Tan
Though this is merely an excerpt of a story from Tan’s iconic work, The Joy Luck Club, it’s still a gem on its own. It exemplifies the childhood of a traditional Chinese daughter and is a good way to introduce narrators who are people of color, especially because of the homogenous perspectives of middle school “required reading.”
4. “War” by Luigi Pirandello
This short story addresses the effect of war on the parents of drafted soldiers. The third person perspective and mood shift at the story’s center create a dramatic tone.
5. “The Red Ibis” by James Hurst
This account of two brothers and the love and resentment between them is a great middle school read because it addresses a universal theme while exposing students to the subject of tragedy. “The Red Ibis” teaches middle school readers about the deep and lasting consequences of hate and anger.
6. “Fish Cheeks” by Amy Tan
A simple read, “Fish Cheeks” addresses the shame of second generation immigrants in their attempt to integrate into primarily white American society.
7. “Civil Peace” by Chinua Achebe
A story about optimism, “Civil Peace” is set in the Nigerian Civil War and emphasizes the importance of a good mindset. It also focuses on the way war can scar a country and leave its inhabitants scrambling for survival.
8. “Amigo Brothers” by Piri Thomas
“Amigo Brothers” exemplifies the rhetorical strategies of irony and an appeal to emotion in an easily comprehensible way. it is set in Manhattan in the mid 1900s and contains Afro-Latino cultural influences. The story also highlights the negative and pressing influences of drugs and gangs that threaten to tear the two main characters away from their childhood and love of boxing.
9. “How to Be Chinese” by Celeste Ng
A story about a young Asian American woman’s social experiences, this story addresses how racism infiltrates many aspects of minority lives while being told from a more modern and relatable perspective.
10. “The Lesson”’ by Toni Cade Bambara
“The Lesson” centers around a young African-American girl named Sylvia who is taught the realities of racial relationships, socioeconomic differences, and bias in America from Mrs. Moore, an “educated” African American woman. This story will be especially beneficial for middle school students who are similar in Sylvia’s age.
11. “Puro Amor” by Sandra Cisneros
“Puro Amor” is a fabulous case study in the ability of successfully using vivid description. It spotlights the lifestyles of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, although the two are never named. Cisneros, the famous author of The House on Mango Street, is a brilliant children’s author whose language is easily relatable and whose stories are simple but beautiful and culturally vibrant.
12. “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury
A commentary on the over-reliance of technology and its effects on children, “The Veldt” is increasingly timely and definitely an impactful read for middle school students.
13. “Names/Nombres” by Julia Alvarez
“Names/Nombres” is not so much as a short story as it is a short memoir, but it’s still a necessary and important one. It tells the tale of Alvarez’s immigration from the Dominican Republic to the United States and expresses the importance behind native and given names, and the even greater importance of the person behind the name.
14. “The Friday Everything Changed” by Anne Hart
This story addresses gender inequality in the classroom and how to reach compromises while championing difference.
15. “The Scholarship Jacket” by Martha Salinas
This short story highlights racial discrimination and financial difficulties that make it hard for the main character, Martha, whose father is a farmer and must support nine children, to receive recognition for her hard work.