A Good Short Story is Hard to Find: Part II
I just finished reading Lord of the Fries and Other Stories (a title I love) by Tim Wynne-Jones. This collection was classified as YA in the library where I found it, though a review I saw described it as being for 10 to 14 year olds, which might be a better fit. These are stories that have a lot to recommend them--well-defined characters and a strong sense of place, for instance. Wynne-Jones is Canadian, and his stories have Canadian settings. That makes them similiar enough to the world Canada's neighbors to the south inhabit for American readers to feel comfortable but unique enough for them to feel they're being exposed to something different. They are comfortably different stories, you might say. One involves young people singing in a church choir who think that Lucifer may be trying to join their group. Another involves a girl obsessed with Anne of Green Gables. Many of the stories are a little predictable, however, ending in ways that teach a moral. Others don't seem to end at all, as in the afore mentioned Lucifer story. (I must admit, I am often dissatisfied with the endings of short stories so you might want to take that into consideration.) The most successful story is the last, "The Chinese Babies." It could be argued that it, too, ends predictably with a positive lesson for young readers. But because of the unique setting--the border between Ontario and Quebec--the bigotry involved is addressed toward French-Canadians, making the story fresh for American readers. On top of that, it deals with real family issues--conflict between fathers and teenage sons that other family members have to stand by helplessly and watch and a failing grandfather who needs his family's care but also earns their contempt because of his narrow-minded attitudes. There's a lot going on and everything is drawn together by the end.
Lord of the Fries is a good collection to have on hand in a classroom or library and certainly a number of these stories would make a good selection for reading in an upper grade or middle school class.