Oxford University Press ISBN: 978-0-19-479361-2
The slender booklet contains 8 stories which were selected from the winning stories in the 2005 and 2006 Commonwealth Short Story Competition. They are “from different countries, but often show that life has the same problems, the same surprises, the same tears and laughter wherever we are.”
This is because the common focus of these stories is on basic human characteristics and the problems they cause for the young: a father’s failure to understand his son’s wish for a different life and his ensuing loneliness as the son leaves his house; the shocking secrets grown-ups keep from each other and from their children; how happy the sudden death of your best friend can make you if that means you “inherit” his winning lottery ticket; deceit between and by grown-ups and what it does to the child involved.
Only two of the 8 stories also show the upside of human character: a father’s ruse to save the goat his son loves from being sacrificed in the hope for rain; or the humaneness of breaking bad news to a loved one as late and gently as possible.
The overall tone of the stories is, however, disillusionment and hurt at human deficiency that destroy trust in a child and damage it for life. The message is expressed in the introduction to the last story, perhaps the most devastating one, called “Treason”: “A child lives in a small, safe world, but that does not last long. There are hard lessons to learn about the adult world, which can be a dangerous place – a place where people say one thing, but do another, a place where truth is difficult to find.”
This is certainly a necessary message to help youngsters develop into adults; but it remains doubtful whether children at 11 to 12 years of age are a suitable target to receive it. Perhaps it would have been better to turn these revealing stories into an Oxford Bookworm Book Stage 6 ….
The book comes with a good selection of ‘After Reading’ Activities focusing on grammar and vocabulary, some information on the authors as well as a CD. It is spoken very clearly by several speakers, male and female, some of them using the accent of the country the story is set in. Listening to them certainly brings the stories alive.
Dr. Christine Zeiler taught English and Geography for 36 years at GRG XIX Billrothstraße and for 7 years at Sir Karl Popper-Schule at Wiedner Gürtel. Her English Drama Group performed one to two plays a year in English for about 20 years.
Dr. Zeiler retired from her official job in 2008. Since then she has worked for TEA for three years, taught and examined for the Berufsreifeprüfung in English at Berufsförderungsinstitut (Bfi), trained and worked with the British Council as an Oral Examiner for the Cambridge Exams and acted as a travel guide and trainer for future travel guides for her daughter’s Travel Guiding Academy Club Europa.
Apart from minding her granddaughter, she currently works for Caritas, giving German lessons to Syrian, Iraqui and Afghan refugees as well as to a lady from Nigeria.