Story in a Tea-Cup

When he woke up, the dinosaur was still there. 

With National Storytelling Week upon us, it’s a great time to pause a minute to think about the power that stories can have. It may be that we sometimes let our reading fall by the way-side as other things fill up our days, but not all stories have to be novels with hundreds of pages that takes weeks to finish. The sometimes-overlooked short story can also be an incredibly powerful form. A good short story leaves a long-lasting impression in the mere half-hour or less they take to digest.

Small but perfectly formed

One of the shortest stories ever written The Dinosaur, by the Guatemalan Augusto Monterroso. In nine words, he suggests an entire world and innumerable possibilities of a story-line. Cleverly selected words such as ‘still’ spark infinite questions and paint a scene in our mind’s eye, but it is the power of our own imagination which plays the lead role. The real story here begins as we reach the final word.

Short stories often pack a big punch in a small space, and leave questions hanging for us to consider on our own in the way a novel doesn’t. Two writers which have had a big impact on me are masters of this. Julio Cortazar and George Luis Borges use the, sometimes completely bizarre, genre of magical realism; which mixes the everyday with the fantastical. Stories such as Letter to a Lady in Paris, House Taken Over and Blow Up (which was made into an experimental British 1960s film) may leaving you feeling a little disorientated, but no-one could argue they don’t get the imaginative cogs whirring. Borges’ Death and the Compass, a brilliant whodunit style story where you notice something new every time you return, distils the crime genre into a couple of pages – and is as gripping as any full-length Crime-Thriller!

Others Short Stories which are worth a read:

Katherine Mansfield, Bliss

Edgar Allen Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart (creepy!)

Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

And some modern writers on my to-read list: Sarah Hall and Yiyun Li.

The list goes on!

The brilliant thing about a short story collection is that you can dip in and out, and get the satisfaction of finishing a whole story in just one sitting. (Although I’m convinced they‘ll leave you wanting more!) We work hard to get children excited about reading, to broaden their imagination – short stories are the perfect way this National Story Telling Week to practice what we preach!

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