I've recently started dropping by a blog called Bookseller Chick. Yesterday she had a post in which she asked for short story recommendations for a sixth-grade girl.
I was interested in this request (and the responses) because when the Gauthier offspring were that age they rarely read short stories at school. They read novels, which is just fine and dandy. However, how often are sixth-grade kids asked to write a novel? Nowhere near as often as they're asked to write short stories. What did they have to model their writing on? Nothing.
I realize that nowadays kids are probably not asked to write fiction because of the NCLB requirements. They're probably busy scribbling essays. Do they get to read essays in class? Is there anything for them to use as a model?
I'm not suggesting that kids need something to copy or a "model" to adhere to. I'm suggesting that it's a whole lot easier to write a short story or essay if you live within a sort of short story or essay culture, if you follow my meaning. In fact, it's a whole lot easier just to be interested in short stories or essays if you're reading a steady diet of them.
I cannot tell you how many years I had to read essays before I even considered writing them.