Short story collections for young readers are in abundance this year. Following are some that I consider quality anthologies. They include a variety of authors using exemplary styles and relevant issues with themes that have redeeming value.
WHAT DO FISH HAVE TO DO WITH ANYTHING AND OTHER STORIES by Avi, 203 pages, Candlewick Press, $16.99.The middle years - between early childhood and adolescence - are difficult, filled with attempting to please parents, sibling rivalry, peer pressure and trying to "gross-out." These are basically the themes that Avi writes about in this collection of seven stories, each of which deals with communication issues.
In "What Do Fish Have to Do with Anything?" there are questions regarding homeless people on the street. "Talk to Me" tells about a girl whose brother has run away from home and resolves problems by inner dialogue. They're stories about using reverse-psychology on a teacher, being pestered by ghosts and a mouthy teenager who devises a plan to get his divorced parents together. The most poignant story is about a suicide attempt, where communication breaks down completely. Avi has a real gift of understanding and hearing the "voice" of young people, and he uses it well in this anthology for upper grade and older students.
Two collections of stories about young people and the work they choose are: WORKING DAYS: SHORT STORIES ABOUT TEENAGERS AT WORK, edited by Anne Mazer, 208 pages, Persea, $17.95 and HELP WANTED: SHORT STORIES ABOUT YOUNG PEOPLE WORKING, edited by Anita Silvey, 174 pages, Little and Brown, $15.95.
The Mazer book contains 15 stories, 12 of which are original, about young Americans' experiences in the workplace. "A job was the way you really found out about the world . . . " says Rob in Kim Stafford's "Riding Up to Ruby's," which really sets the tone for all entries in this book. These are high-school age kids who are touched by their peers, bosses and customers while working at their first employment.
In the Silvey book, the most famous story about jobs is from "Dandelion Wine" by Ray Bradbury. Others by Michael Dorris, Gary Soto and Vivien Alcock and eight other authors make this a culturally diverse collection. One of my favorites is "Hands in the Darkness" by Peter D. Sieruta, a story of a juvenile offender who is doing community service in a retirement center. Some of the selections suggest youths and their bravado contrasted with others that are sympathetic and gentle. This is an especially nice variety for readers in grades six and up.
LEAVING HOME, stories selected by Hazel Rockman and Darlene Z. McCampbell, 232 pages, $16.95, HarperCollins.
There are times when everyone is stuck in their home place, a safe haven for most. These 16 stories are about leaving that safety - whether it's the first day of school, such as in Edward P. Jones' "The First Day" or in the story of Zelzah, Norma Fox Mazer's Yiddish protagonist, who leaves home because of an arranged marriage to her cousin in America. These stories by such well-known authors as Toni Morrison, Tim Wynne-Jones and Amy Tan vary from one to several pages in length and would have a strong appeal to young readers of middle- and high-school age who are wondering about the venture away from home.
For middle-graders, TREEHOUSE TALES by Anne Isaacs (96 pages, Dutton, $14.99) would be a good choice. These three selections are about American settlers in the 1800s as the Barrett children fabricate play situations in their treehouse. There's a touch of accuracy to make each a connection to actual events in history.
TWELVE IMPOSSIBLE THINGS BEFORE BREAKFAST, Jane Yolen, 175 pages, Harcourt, $17.
Yolen fans will find this collection a delicious treat of mystery, humor and more mystery. There are fairies, a touch of "Alice in Wonderland" (or more accurately, a tough Alice), strange neighbors and people who come back from the dead. Each of the 12 stories brings chuckles or nail-biting! One example is the spoof-of-sorts on "Peter Pan" called "Lost Girls," which tells about Wendy and the other Wendys (for there are many in this version) who go on strike. I was delighted to find Mrs. Hook, not the Captain, in charge.
The title of the collection is taken from "Alice in Wonderland" and in a preface Yolen writes about the beginning, " . . . Three of the stories are absolutely brand-new - so new, in fact, that the price tags are still on them and they are in their original wrapping."
In an epilogue "Running in Place . . . " (a phrase also taken from Alice), the author reflects on the anthology and the wholeness of it. "Sometimes we don't even know what ground we have actually covered until we go back and look it over from a very great height . . . then we notice how we have been going over a personal landscape." Young readers from fourth grade up will certainly find something of fun in this treasury.