Short Story Review | “Sleeping” by Katherine Weber

Imagine baby-sitting a baby and never seeing the child? This is the situation that Harriet faces in “Sleeping” by Katherine Weber. This eerie short story chronicles the adventure of a young girl named Harriet who, despite being inexperienced with children, receives an offer from Mr. Winter to baby-sit an infant named Charles.

Basically, the Winters give Harriet instructions not to look in on the baby or do anything for the child at all. While the Winters are gone to the movies, Harriet becomes naturally curious and tries to peek in on baby Charles. She finds the door to his room to be locked.

After the Winters return home, they still don’t check in on the so-called baby. Mr. Winters asks Harriet if she understands. She doesn’t really, but in a way she does.

This short story is beautifully written, using simplistic symbolism that forces the reader to question what’s really going on in the Winters’ home. The last name of the young couple, Winter, calls up images of a barren, cold, childless home. It is apparent that Mrs. Winters has lost her baby Charles; by what means, it is unclear. It is clear that the Winters are dealing with their loss by pretending to still have a baby and to need a baby-sitter, when, in fact, they don’t. They pay Harriet well and she arrives home safely, but she will likely never forget the strange baby-sitting experience.

Katherine Weber skillfully captures the reader attention through her dramatic, yet simplistic writing style and I look forward to reading more of her works in the future.

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Short Story Review: “The Karate Kid” by Gary Soto

“The Karate Kid” is the story of a young boy, Gilbert, who wants to protect himself from a bully. Inspired by the classic movie Karate Kid, he finds stands up against the class bully, only to be badly embarassed in front of his classmates, including a girl that he likes very much.

Instead of letting himself continue to get beat up by Pete the Heat, the “not so bright fourth grader,” Gilbert decides to take karate classes. He enrolls in the classes, but his teacher is lousy and lazy, accusing the kids of being disrespectful while practically ignoring them and putting no heart into his teacher. The instructor, Mr. Lopez, closes the karate school due to “bad business” and Gilbert is relieved. He has found karate to be painful, difficult, and useless in helping him defend himself against Pete the Heat.

When Gilbert’s mother offers to send him to a new karate school, he tells her that it’s not necessary, and that he she will never hear about him getting beat up again. The reader can assume that this does not mean that he no longer got beat up, but that he simply no longer told his mother about it.

The title of the short story, “The Karate Kid,” turns out to be ironic because the reader learns that Gilbert is not a fighter in any sense of the word. His skills at fighting are lacking and he has no “fighter” in him because he does not press on to become skilled enough at karate to fight back. In fact, he loses interest in karate altoghther, preferring to stick to reading comic books which, “didn’t hurt.”

There are several themes throughout this short story; the theme of childhood memories as Gilbert’s mother is motivated to pay for the classes due to her own unrequitted ballet dreams. There are themes of fighting, winning, and losing. The fighting represents Gilbert’s stuggle to prove himself, for his friend Raymundo it may symbolize letting a friend down (when he does not help Gilbert, calling him a menso) and for Pete the Heat it symbolizes a way for him to hide his own weaknesses.

One can write a whole character analysis on Mr. Lopez, the lackluster instructor who aids in dashing Gilbert’s dreams of becoming a great fighter.

Gary Soto is a short story master and I have been reading many more of his works in Baseball in April and Other Stories while my 8th grade students have taken an interest in his short stories about love.

Short Story Review: “Only Daughter” by Sandra Cisneros

“Only Daughter” is an ethnic short story about a young girl who is the only daughter in a family of 6 sons. The story begins with her childhood and how the daughter was unappreciated by her brothers who never play with her and her father who refers to her as one of his “siete ninos” or seven sons, even when he is speaking English he never bothers to correct the mistranslation. The daughter expresses her desire to go to college and the dad agrees because he hopes she will meet a man in college. She completes undergrad and grad school, still unmarried. Her father feels she has wasted her education. The narrator discusses how she was always writing for her father and people like him the “public majority disinterested in reading.” In the end, after she has been a professional writer for 10 years and her father has grown much more sickly, he reads one of her works that has been translated to Spanish (he could not read English) and enjoys it. In this way, he expresses that he is proud of her and the conflict between them is resolved.

This is a great story, but I would love to know the father’s point of view. He was trying to support nine people in foreign land and did not even read English. Anyone who has ever felt disconnected from their father would certainly enjoy this story.

Sandra Cisneros is also the author of House On Mango Street, which I am currently reading.  http://www.sandracisneros.com/

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