Now more than ever are teachers encouraged to diversify the literature they teach in their classrooms and give students the opportunity to relate and connect with characters from all types of backgrounds.
Teaching literature with a variety of viewpoints allows students to appreciate the full scope of the art of literature and it gives all the students you teach the opportunity to feel recognized and heard. It is so important to value diversity in education and to simply expose your students to different perspectives in the world, to include the female perspective.
If you’re looking to enhance your current curriculum with more representation of women, or if you are looking to celebrate Women’s History Month, the following list of short stories by these awesome female authors may be helpful for you. Hey, maybe you’ll even inspire the young women in your class to pursue a career in writing!
“The Scholarship Jacket” by Marta Salinas
The main character and narrator, Martha, is an 8th grade student who is closely approaching graduation. Every year, her school awards the student with the highest grades a jacket with an “S” monogrammed on it. Martha’s older sister earned the jacket previously, which makes Martha next in line to win. However, this year there is a change in the rules. There will now be a fifteen dollar charge to win the jacket, and if the winner cannot pay, it goes to the next student in line
Students connect this story to social issues in the world, such as diversity and inequity. There is so much to learn from “The Scholarship Jacket.” This short story is relatable to middle schoolers and is perfect for teaching theme and text-to-self connections.
“The Friday Everything Changed” by Anne Hart
The story begins in an isolated town where the school is given a new water pump. The “strong boys” are the ones designated to retrieve water since the girls are considered too weak to do so. This upsets the main character, Alma Niles, and she contemplates why the girls are treated so differently than the boys. Her valid inquiry sparks her to lead the other female students to fight for gender equality in their school.
Alma is such a great role model for young women. While reading “The Friday Everything Changed,” there is the opportunity to teach theme and character development. It has a great variety of vocabulary and so much figurative language as well.
“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
A small village hosts an annual lottery each year where the town gathers for a big mandatory celebration. As the lottery begins, the heads of each family start drawing slips of paper from an ominous black box. If your slip of paper contains a black dot, your immediate family must draw again to see which singular person is the lottery winner. Bill Hutchinson pulls the black dot for his family, which leads to Bill’s wife Tessie being the final winner of the lottery. Readers then find out that the winning prize is actually to be stoned to death by the people of her village.
“The Lottery” is a great story to teach suspense in literature as well as allegory. The tradition of the lottery is both tragic and outrageous. The superstition is that the lottery brings a good harvest, and hence the townspeople sustain the annual ritual. Shirley Jackson’s writing is brilliant and your students will love the shocking irony once they find out what the lottery really is!
“Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros
“Eleven” is a story all about finding your voice and how no matter how old you get, there are still times in your life where you feel like a child. The story is narrated through the lens of Rachel who has just turned eleven. Rachel explores thoughts of getting older and not feeling any different. For example, she concludes that when you turn eleven years old, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one on the inside. Then in school, Rachel’s teacher falsely suggests that Rachel left her red sweater in the classroom. Unable to communicate that the garment is not hers, the teacher gives Rachel the red sweater. The misunderstanding leaves Rachel feeling helpless, embarrassed, and alone… when eventually another student claims the sweater.
This story works as a quality mentor text to teach writing. This female author shows the intricacies of an eleven-year-old girl’s mind and is relatable to young girls who have ever felt afraid to speak up.
“Fish Cheeks” by Amy Tan
“Fish Cheeks” is a true story written by Amy Tan. The author writes about her experiences growing up as a young Chinese girl in America. In the story, Amy’s mom invites the minister from their church over for Christmas Eve, and Amy has a crush on his son. Amy is worried that Robert, the minister’s son, might judge her and think she is weird because of her Chinese culture. For example, Amy’s family serves squid, tofu, and fish cheeks for dinner. When Amy’s mother nonchalantly announces that Amy’s favorite meal is fish cheeks, Amy wants to absolutely disappear from humiliation. It is later that Amy learns a valuable lesson from her mother about being proud of where you come from and who you are inside.
Amy Tan is an incredible female author whose writing gives middle school students so many text-to-self connections. It is also a perfect story to launch a personal narrative unit. Amy’s female perspective on culture during teen years is one that should be discussed in all middle school classrooms.
“Charles” by Shirley Jackson
Author Shirley Jackson does it again with her short story, “Charles.” In this story, a mother notices her son Laurie starting to change as he is growing up. When he goes to school, he stops waving goodbye to his mother, then he starts slamming doors, etc. Meanwhile, Laurie talks to his mother about a boy in his class named Charles, who is a so-called troublemaker. He is rude to the teacher, hurts other students, and even kicked a presenter one day. Laurie’s mother, concerned for her own son’s declining behavior, decides Charles has been a bad influence on Laurie. Laurie decides to attend the PTA meeting in order to talk to Laurie’s teacher about Charles. As it turns out, there is no Charles in Kindergarten.
This story teaches inferences because students need to make the connection that Laurie was talking about himself the entire time he was speaking about Charles. Middle schoolers can analyze the irony and humor of this female-written story.
“The Fly” by Katherine Mansfield
“The Fly” may seem like a story about a man simply killing a fly that was bothering him, but really, it symbolizes much more. Mr. Woodfield recently had a stroke and is visiting his friend, “The Boss.” They are having a laugh, talking about the new office decor The Boss has. The conversation is light but changes when Mr. Woodfield tells The Boss of his son who died in Belgium. This reminds The Boss of his own son who was also killed in the war. After Mr. Woofield leaves, The Boss is distracted by a fly trapped in the ink stand. The Boss ensures the fly dies by persistently dropping more ink on the fly. He then completely loses track of what he was thinking about before.
“The Fly” is an allegory for The Boss’s “grinding feeling of wretchedness” regarding his son’s death. The guilt he feels alludes to the older generation’s remorse at sending their sons to war as well as the revenge that The Boss seeks for his son’s death. Katherine Mansfield’s work is perfect for a Social Studies cross-curricular connection in middle school. It also is a tool to teach symbolism.
“Rules of the Game” by Amy Tan
“Rules of the Game” is about Waverly, a young girl who lives with her family in Chinatown, San Francisco. It is Christmas day, and Waverly’s brother receives a chess set from Chinese Santa Claus. The whole family partakes in playing chess, which is how Waverly realizes she is actually very skilled at the game. Waverly soon becomes a chess genius, but her mother keeps saying she is just “lucky” and puts her down. Her mother’s lack of validation causes Waverly to feel betrayed; she runs home angry and imagines a chess game where she beats her mom.
Amy Tan’s story encompasses a female protagonist who prevails at a game that is typically male dominated. Waverly is a strong female character who is relatable to teens everywhere, especially those students who don’t always see eye-to-eye with their parents. This story can be a tool to teach internal vs. external conflict and character development.
“Wildflower” by Amrita Pritam
“Wildflower” is a story about Angoori, the protagonist, who lives in a city in India, but is originally from a small village. The narrator and Angoori meet by happenstance and begin talking; they discover they have very different beliefs. Angoori thinks it is a sin for women to read, and that women can only fall in love if they eat a magical wildflower. Angoori’s world is then flipped upside-down because she begins to have feelings for a man that is not her husband.
Amrita Pritam is an excellent female writer and this story is a great tool for analyzing how the patriarchy shapes people’s mindsets. Angoori’s internal conflict makes for great discussion about morals and values in society. Reading this story can also be an opportunity to teach students about women’s rights and societal norms in other countries.
“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin
“The Story of an Hour” is about a woman named Louise Mallard who just finds out some horribly wonderful news. The story covers just one hour, hence the title. When Mrs. Mallard is told that her husband has been killed in a tragic accident, her loved ones are worried for her health due to her serious heart condition. Mrs. Mallard runs upstairs to grieve and be alone. In her cathartic cry, she realizes what her future will be like as a widow, and her feelings of despair turn to hope. She can live with more freedom now as the harsh realities of being a housewife are alleviated. Mrs. Mallard returns downstairs in a better mood, when shockingly, her husband walks through the door. Mrs. Mallard has a heart attack and dies.
Chopin’s classic story is one that middle-school students love reading. They are blown away by the twist at the end. There is so much to be studied from this story from irony to the oppression of women during this time. Why would a woman in this time need to celebrate her husband’s death to feel free?
“A White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewett
“A White Heron” is about a girl named Sylvia who lives on a farm. Slyvia is starting to love living in the country even though she originally moved from the city. She is in charge of milking a specific cow who is always running away. One day while she was walking her cow home, she heard a whistle. The whistle was of a hunter who offered her money to help him find a white heron. She dreams of what the money could do for her. Syliva climbs to the top of a tree to look for the heron’s nest. Sylvia eventually spots the nest… but she never tells the hunter.
“A White Heron” can be taught in the classroom to study gender roles, as all the characters are living a peaceful life until a male hunter interrupts. Sylvia also goes through many internal struggles which makes this a great text to teach internal conflict. There is a lot of symbolism throughout the story as well.
“The Hitchhiker” by Lucille Fletcher
“The Hitchhiker” is a short story well known for being a radio play in the 1950s. Ronald Adams lives in New York City and decides to take a trip across the country to California. As he is driving, he notices a hitchhiker on the Brooklyn Bridge but keeps going. Ronald then notices the same man hitchhiking miles later. As Ronald continuously sees the same hitchhiker throughout the trip, he becomes very nervous about him. He starts to worry if the hitchhiker is a threat. Ronald tries to call his mother, and the operator states that she is in the hospital from a nervous breakdown after hearing the news of her son dying on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Students love this story written by Fletcher! This text requires a higher level of thinking from students and can be used to analyze numerous literary elements.
“Raymond’s Run” by Toni Cade Bambara
“Raymond’s Run” is about a girl named Hazel who comes from a poor family and lives in an urban neighborhood in Harlem, New York. Hazel, who is better known by her nickname Squeaky, takes care of her brother Raymond who has an intellectual disability. Squeaky is a long-distance runner who rebels against the gender norms for females at the time. After a new runner moves to town, Squeaky realizes the competition at this year’s May Day race won’t be easy. Naturally, the two girls strike up a rivalry and must race each other. In the end, they realize they are both strong opponents, and actually gain respect for each other. Hazel also learns that her brother is an individual who doesn’t always need protection.
This story highlights how people shouldn’t judge one another and how important it is for women to support other women. Middle school students learn so much from this story by analyzing the themes of gender, race, and people with disabilities.
“Sol Painting, Inc.” by Meg Medina
“Sol Painting Inc.” is about a 12-year-old girl named Merci who wants to grow up and run her father’s painting business even though her mother does not approve of this dream. In exchange for his children’s tuition at a fancy private school, Merci’s father agrees to paint the gymnasium and a few classrooms. Merci’s brother is embarrassed by this deal and he is ashamed of his father’s painting business. Tensions grow even higher when some girls from the school carelessly damage the paint job the family had just completed.
Meg Medina is a Cuban American writer whose stories focus on how a person’s family, culture, and heritage influence them. This story teaches different points of view the characters can have in a situation. It also touches on social issues such as a female wanting to be in a trade career. It goes into race issues with the family being Cuban in a white area.
“The Third Wish” by Joan Aiken
“The Third Wish” is about a man named Mr. Peters who comes across a swan stuck in some bushes. Mr. Peters saves the swan, and it turns into a king. The king tells Mr. Peters he has three wishes. Mr. Peters wishes for a wife, and a beautiful woman appears in the forest for him that night. He marries the woman, but she is sad and tells him she used to be a swan and wishes she was one again. He uses his second wish to turn his wife back into a swan. Mr. Peters never uses his third wish and is visited by swans routinely.
“The Third Wish” can be used as a mentor text to kick off a fantasy/ fairy tale unit. It can teach character traits and literary elements. Students love the story of Mr. Peters and reflect on what their own choices would be if they had three wishes.
“American History” by Judith Ortiz Cofer
“American History” takes place in the 1960s and is about a fourteen-year-old Puerto Rican immigrant named Elena. She lives in Patterson, New Jersey and often daydreams about her neighbor Eugene who she has a crush on. After Eugene invites her over to study, Elena is so excited to get to spend time with him. Unfortunately, she is then crushed when his mother opens the door and rejects her. Eugene’s mother tells Elena that she is not to be friends with her son because—in so many words—she is a poor immigrant. This incident breaks Elena’s heart and just so happens to coincide with the tragic assianation of President John F. Kennedy. As much as Elena wants to mourn the country’s President, she is too distracted by the realizaion that racism and discrimination are strongly present in her world.
This story is so interesting to read because it shows a young girl’s point of view during a very specific time in American history. The story can be a mentor text to study cultural isolation and the effects of racism and xenophobia.
“A Visit of Charity” by Eudora Welty
“A Visit of Charity,” tells the story of a fourteen-year-old girl named Marion. who must visit an “Old Ladies” home in order to earn volunteer points for her Campfire Girl program. She meets two women at the nursing home, one who will not stop talking, and the other one who appears to be bothered by not only the woman talking but by Marion’s visit as well. Marion was very rude to the women and even compared them to witches. The story’s message to young readers is that being selfish or insensitive can prevent you from recognizing the needs of others.
This story contains many strong female characters who are all unique in their own way. The symbolism and morals in the story make it a perfect middle school read.
“Desiree’s Baby” by Kate Chopin
Set during the antebellum period in New Orleans, “Desiree’s Baby” is about a woman named Desiree who was adopted as an orphan child by a rich plantation owner. Once Desiree becomes of age, she marries a well-respected plantation owner named Armand Aubigny. Desiree and Armand have a loving, wonderful marriage…at first. Their relationship becomes tumultuous after Desiree gives birth to their first child, who appears to be of mixed race. Armand does not want to have any interaction with Desiree or the baby, as he assumes it is Desiress’ unknown heritage that entails the black ancestry. Desiree, absolutely broken-hearted, takes her baby, walks off into the bayou, and is never seen again. At the end of the story, while Armand is going through old papers, he discovers that it is he (and not his wife) who has the black heritage.
Racism, gender roles, and societal expectations are all points of contention in this story. Middle school students can have deep discussions in class about the irony, themes, and inferences.
“Sorry, Wrong Number” by Lucille Fletcher
“Sorry, Wrong Number,” tells the story of Mrs. Stevenson, a woman trying to get a hold of her husband working late. When she calls to talk to her husband, the phone line is busy. After calling the operator, she hears a conversation on the phone line between two men. A man named George is talking to his boss about his plans to murder someone that night at 11:15 pm. Mrs. Stevenson tells the phone operator, and the operator tells her to call the police immediately. Mrs. Stevenson uses the clues from the men’s conversation to deduce that she is George’s intended victim. Mrs. Stevenson is trying to call the police, but the murderer is already inside her house. She is about to get through to the police when she is killed.
This story has elements of foreshadowing and suspense. Middle school students are engaged in reading this mystery and try to solve the ending.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
This gothic, psychological tale is one of the most popular short stories taught in schools across America. In this chilling story, the narrator is kept isolated from society due to her mental health or as she describes it, her “nervous depression.” As a cure to her condition, the narrator’s husband (a doctor) decides that rest and seclusion will calm her nerves, leaving the narrator sequestered in a peculiar mansion for the summer. The narrator writes in a diary, against her husband’s orders, and documents her waves of happiness, boredom, and depression as her mania only increases from the confinement she endures. Eventually, the narrator begins to see a woman trapped in the horrid yellow wallpaper of her bedroom. Her desire to free the woman is a direct reflection of her desire to liberate herself from the constraints of her domestic life.
This story opens up opportunities to talk about gender roles in the nineteenth century, mental health issues, and the use of an unreliable narrator in literature. Students love this creepy and disturbing narrative.