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No, really. They did. So what kind of short stories make kids say they like them? That reading them was fun? Actually, two titles I found in a surprising place -- our textbooks. My seventh graders read "Duffy's Jacket" by Bruce Coville, while eighth grade read "The Landlady" by Roald Dahl. Both are slightly scary and somewhat dark, and guess what? Middle schoolers love them.
Kind of like in the old scary story where the "voice" creeps in the door, up the stairs, and into your room, the thing in "Duffy's Jacket" scratches at the door to the house. Then it breaks down the door, comes up the stairs, and. . . returns Duffy's jacket. Needless to say, my seventh graders were entirely on the edge of their seats, then laughing their heads off (with a little bit of relief) at the end.
Billy meets "the landlady" and is perfectly charmed -- despite the fact that anyone with even mediocre observation skills would immediately notice something in the house has gone awry. For one thing, there are no other guests -- and there haven't been for almost two years. Additionally, the landlady seems bent on serving tea to a guest who protests that he isn't thirsty. Compounded with these oddities are the remarks the landlady continuously makes about how she was "waiting for him" to come and how "everything is ready" for him.
As things become more and more strange, Billy continues to be blissfully unaware of his mistake in staying there. Rather, he seems to believe that he hit upon a streak of good luck in finding the place. Although I don't want to spoil the ending for you, let's just say things get a little bit "A Rose for Emily" in the final paragraphs of the story. One student in the back of the classroom pulled at his hair and screamed, "Nooo!!" at the end. But he was smiling -- and the rest of the class loved it.
Now, let's hope that neither they (nor I) suffer bad dreams tonight as a result of reading it. Dahl is exactly the right amount of strange for the middle school crowd -- still a bit childish, but delightfully creepy, too.
With both stories, we worked on the students' prediction skills. Using a chart to list questions ("What will happen next?"), predictions ("I think ___ will happen because _____."), and, finally, checks ("Yes, I was right," or "No, I was wrong."), we wound our way through the twists and turns of each of these stories. As we stopped -- at particularly telling or exciting parts -- the students begged to go on. I believe they sharpened their predicting skills, however, and also enjoyed a good read at the same time.