Readworks is one of the most remarkable companies I've ever worked for. A non-profit dedicated to spreading the joy of reading across the country, they work to make teachers' lives easier by providing high-quality fiction and non-fiction designed for students to read, discuss and enjoy.
I wrote dozens of stories, both fictional and non-fictional for Readworks, on subjects ranging from the Empire State Building and the Revolutionary war to children's insatiable desire for candy. It was delightful work, and I must have been good at it—Readworks employees have told me that my stories are consistently among the site's most popular.
Here are the beginnings to a few of my favorite Readworks stories:
"They should have never left me alone with you," said Keira. "That was a bad mistake."
Keira was speaking to a bag of chocolate. It was under her brother's bed. It was a green bag, and it was almost full. Tyler had not eaten much of his Halloween candy. Now he would never get the chance.
Halloween was three days ago. Keira had dressed as a bumblebee. Her brother had gone as a clown. They walked up and down their street and the two next to it. Every house they went to gave them candy. Some gave them lollipops. Some gave them caramel. But Keira's favorite was the houses that gave them chocolate.
In December 1864, the Civil War was nearly over. The armies of the Union had conquered most of the South, but the fighting was not finished. Hoping to reverse the war's course, the Confederate general John Bell Hood marched his army toward Nashville. The capital of Tennessee, Nashville, had been under Union control since 1862. Capturing it, Hood hoped, could save the Confederacy.
It was freezing cold when the battle started on December 15th. The Confederate troops were outnumbered. They fought in ragged uniforms, sometimes without shoes. Against the superior Union army, they had no hope. On December 16th, Hood was defeated. The battle was over. The Union won the Civil War four months later. Although the Southern states returned to the Union, the country remained divided.
Fifty years later, most of the war's veterans were dead. Around the country, towns and cities had begun building monuments in their memory. In the North, monuments were built to honor the Union. In the South, monuments honored the Confederacy. Even though the states were united again, no one built a monument to both sides.
It wasn't the candy he wanted. It was the skateboard. Tommy had been staring at it for weeks, every day on his way home from school, admiring it through the window of the skate shop on Market Street. It was a longboard—a serious skateboard, not meant for tricks or speed, but for long rides down hills, on busy roads, or all the way across town. This was a skateboard that could change Tommy's life forever. No longer would his parents have to pick him up after school, or at the movies or the mall. The longboard would be able to take him home.
It was ocean blue, with chrome wheels and an elaborate drawing of a rocket ship on the underside. Each time he pressed his face against the glass of the skate shop, he felt himself fall into that picture, and his dreams of riding the longboard became mixed up with dreams of interstellar travel. He wasn't just going to the mall. He was going to Mars, to Alpha Centauri, to anywhere in the galaxy he felt like. He was going to conquer the stars.
Have you ever seen a baseball stadium with a hill in it? In Nashville, Tennessee, there used to be a ballpark called Sulphur Dell. It was one of the strangest ballparks in history.
In most ballparks, the right field fence is about 330 feet from home plate. In Sulphur Dell, it was only 262 feet—which made it very easy to hit home runs, if you hit the ball to just the right spot. That's pretty odd, but not half as weird as the hill in the outfield. It sloped up in front of the right field fence, until it got to about 22 feet high!
Skip Nipper, a historian who wrote about Sulphur Dell in his book Baseball in Nashville, calls the stadium "quirky." He likes to tell a story about a player named Phil Weintraub, who had some trouble with the outfield hill in 1934.
"A hard line drive came his way," says Nipper, "and he ran down the hill and reached down to catch the ball and missed it. It went between his legs. He turned around, went up the hill to catch it, and once again it went between his legs. When he finally got it, he threw it over the third baseman's head."
In baseball, when a player makes a mistake, he's charged with an "error." It's pretty bad if a player makes more than one error in a game, but on that play, Phil Weintraub made three!