10 YA & MG Short Stories That Provide a Satisfying and Complete Reading Experience

Dec 14, 2023 | Novels

Nora Shalaway Carpenter & Rob Costello Share 10 of Their Favorite YA & MG Short Stories

We love short stories! So much so, we’ve made writing, editing, and anthologizing them a big part of our careers. Short stories provide a satisfying and complete reading experience that can be enjoyed in a single sitting. They are amazing teaching tools and can introduce readers to favorite new authors. For writers, short stories also offer tremendous versatility, furnishing the opportunity to play and experiment, try out fresh ideas, and dabble in new genres and styles without the commitment of time and effort required by a longer project.

Yet, despite all of these benefits, it never ceases to amaze us how many children’s writers have never tried to write a short story of their own.

We aim to change that!

That’s why we’re offering our Intro to Writing Short Fiction for MG & YA Authors webinar, hosted by the Highlights Foundation on the evenings of January 23 and 25. In this two-night online course, we’ll be teaching everything you need to know to get started writing your own short stories for young readers. We’ll offer fun exercises and prompts designed to elicit new story ideas and revise existing stories. Nora’s going to talk us through the challenges of writing her latest short piece–which was a bit stubborn at first–and is forthcoming in a soon-to-be-announced collection. Finally, we’ll provide useful information on how and where to publish your own work.

Short fiction is a small but thriving corner of the children’s publishing market, and so we thought we’d share ten of our favorite recent YA and MG short stories (in no particular order) to intrigue and inspire you. Maybe you have a story like one of these you’re simply dying to write? If so, what’s stopping you?

Anyway, happy reading!

Nora & Rob

#1: “When Water Sang Fire”

By Leigh Bardugo

THE LANGUAGE OF THORNS: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic, by Leigh Bardugo

Bardugo’s storytelling prowess is at its finest here, in which she turns “The Little Mermaid” tale completely on its head. In fact, anytime “The Little Mermaid” comes up now, I think of this piece. Reader satisfaction: 10/10.

from Nora

Book cover The Language of Thorns

#2: “Nick and Bodhi”

By Naomi Kanakia

OUT THERE: Into the Queer New Yonder, ed. by Saundra Mitchell

Too many readers are sleeping on Naomi Kanakia. Her YA novels and short stories are always brilliant, combining her trademark gentle wit and razor-sharp character observations with big ideas and a deeply humane worldview. This one is no exception, introducing A.I. and the multiverse to high school, while weaving in threads of racism, queerness, toxic masculinity, and the self-defeating toll of internalized transphobia. But if all of that sounds like a downer, it isn’t. Instead, this tale is fun and wise, endearing and utterly original—just like its author.  —from Rob

Book cover of Out There Into the New Queer Yonder

#3: “Weight”

By Dhonielle Clayton

FORESHADOW: A Serial YA Anthology
Read the story here .

There’s a lot to admire about this piece—the excellently executed close third POV, the unique premise, the lush writing—but my favorite is how Clayton engages the reader. She doesn’t tell us the ending, but throughout the piece she gives us just enough details for us to have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen with these two characters. This kind of story stays with me for a long time.—from Nora



#4: “Spidey Sense”

By Nora Shalaway Carpenter

AB(SOLUTELY) NORMAL: Short Stories That Smash Mental Health Stereotypes, ed. by Rocky Callen & Nora Shalaway Carpenter

One of the drawbacks of editing an anthology is that you’re usually so busy cheerleading the work of your contributors that you rarely get to celebrate your own story. So, I’m doing that for Nora. Among a treasure trove of gems in this amazing, must-read YA collection, Nora’s piece shines the brightest. Sensitive, deeply felt, gorgeously written, and with just the lightest touch of magic, “Spidey Sense” made my heart sing the first time I read it… and the second… and the third! Nora isn’t just a great editor; she’s also one heck of a fine writer. Truly a story to savor. —from Rob

Book cover of Absolutely Normal

#5: “What You Don’t Know Now”

By A. M. Strohman

Black Fox Literary Magazine
Read the story here .

Strohman tells this story in the rarely used second person, so it’s worth the read for that alone. Consider why second person not only works, but makes the best sense for the point Strohman is trying to make. The ending echoes long after the piece is over. —from Nora

Black Fox Literary Magazine

#6: “Magic for Beginners”

By Kelly Link

Read the story here

This tale is a surreal, metafictional tour-de-force about the passionate reverence of teenage fandoms. It doesn’t so much break the fourth wall as tie it up in Gordian knots. It’s breathtakingly ambitious, epitomizing the very definition of the word marvelous—as in both “extremely good or pleasing” AND “causing great wonder; extraordinary.” Though available online, do yourself a favor and check out Link’s entire collection of YA short stories, PRETTY MONSTERS, each of which is astonishing in its own right.—from Rob

Book cover of Pretty Monsters

#7: “Be Not Afraid”

By Michael Thomas Ford

WE MOSTLY COME OUT AT NIGHT: 15 Queer Tales of Monsters, Angels & Other Creatures, ed. by Rob Costello

This piece is an excellent example of how to integrate, almost off-handedly, tiny details that illuminate so much about character and place. Ford also nails the first-person present point of view, which can grow tiresome if not executed well. Instead, the voice of Ford’s narrator is distinct—as direct and unassuming as the protagonist himself. Ford’s story also demonstrates how to keep a story’s pace moving even when incorporating a lot of internal dialogue. —from Nora

Book cover of We Mostly Come Out at Night

#8: “The Legendary Lawrence Cobbler”

By Julian Winters

BLACK BOY JOY: 17 Stories Celebrating Black Boyhood, ed. by. Kwame Mbalia

If there’s one thing short stories excel at it’s capturing the huge emotional stakes that occur in the smallest of life’s moments. In this sweet and deceptively uncomplicated middle grade tale of (queer) Black boy joy, three generations of the Lawrence family come together to bake a peach cobbler, and in the process affirm the power of every kind of love. A perfect illustration of how much you can accomplish with the simplest of ingredients, this is a supremely delicious and satisfying story.—from Rob

Book cover of Black Boy Joy

#9: “The Glittering Death”

By Caleb Roehrig

HIS HIDEOUS HEART: 13 of Edgar Allan Poe’s Most Unsettling Tales Reimagined, ed. by Dahlia Adler

Inspired by Edgar Allen’s Poe “The Pit and the Pendulum,” Roehrig’s reimagining turns the Inquisition into a serial killer of women, a brilliant example of bringing a story up to date for a contemporary audience. This is a fear that all female readers know. Roehrig’s piece also demonstrates how to move smoothly between two related timelines as an alternative to small flashbacks. Of all the stories in this anthology, this one stuck with me the most.—from Nora

Book cover of His Hideous Heart

#10: “On the I-5”

By Kendare Blake

SLASHER GIRLS & MONSTER BOYS, ed. by April Genevieve Tucholke

This is my favorite piece from one of the best YA anthologies I’ve ever read. In this story of the hunter becoming the hunted, things are not at all what they first seem, generating both suspense and a surprising amount of pathos for the reader. Kendare Blake is a master of subverting expectations, particularly when it comes to the vulnerability of young women. Here, she cleverly manipulates our preconceived notions about her teenage protagonist to methodically build tension, step by inexorable step. The climax of the story manages to be both horrifying and deeply satisfying, while the very end will rip your heart out—metaphorically, of course. Even if you don’t normally like horror, I suspect you’ll relish this trip on the I-5. —from Rob

Book cover of Slasher Girls and Monster Boys

You can find this list of book recommendations on the Highlights Foundation store at Bookshop.org.

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