Introducing: CommonLit Originals

A yellow and teal graphic that says "CommonLit Originals" and a computer screen with several CommonLit Original texts.

Check out these brand new high-interest and timely short stories, available only on CommonLit.

Stories are powerful. They are formative experiences for children. It’s no wonder that every culture on Earth uses storytelling as a vehicle for educating children, and for passing along knowledge, traditions, culture, and values. Given the importance of stories, representation in all its forms is a crucial component of quality educational literature. Where we see others in literature, we see an opportunity to learn more. Where we see ourselves in literature, we see an opportunity to look within.

In an effort to add a more diverse range of voices and stories to our free digital library, CommonLit is proud to announce our work to commission new stories. Our Creative Director, Koye Oyedeji, elaborates, “The CommonLit Originals project offers an opportunity to present stories that are more responsive to students — whether it’s a case of what it means to pack a lunch that contains okra instead of peanut butter and jelly, to shift from the classroom to taking classes via WebEx, or what alien stories teach us about the way we treat each other. CommonLit Originals allow us to contribute to building a more robust and representative canon of children’s literature, and address timely themes.”

12 New Openly-Licensed Stories

A carousel with several CommonLit Originals stories.
Carousel of CommonLit Original Stories You’ll Only Find on CommonLit

To kick off the CommonLit Originals project, we commissioned 12 new stories from local and national authors, now published for free access at www.commonlit.org. This first group of stories includes brand new works from the 1995 National Book Award finalist, Gary Soto, and debut author of the novel “What We Were Promised,” Lucy Tan. They feature diverse characters who, in a multitude of ways, recognize their similarities and differences with the people around them and learn to stand more firm in who they are.

Note: To ensure broad access to these materials, we have made a commitment to publish CommonLit Originals under an open license, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. This means that the stories published with this license can be reused, shared, and remixed, as long as they are properly attributed, used for non-commercial purposes only and shared under the same license if a derivative is created. We are grateful to Lucy Tan and Gary Soto, who have made their stories available in our library under this open license, maintaining most of the flexibility to promote equitable access . To learn more about the open licenses we use, check out this blog post.

Here’s a preview of the new CommonLit Originals:

Elementary

The Test by Shelby Ostergaard (5th grade)

Javon always puts a lot of pressure on himself to do well in school. He wants to go to college on a scholarship so that he can help his parents pay for his education. He learns a valuable lesson about fairness after taking a difficult math test and getting frustrated that his classmate receives extra time to complete their tests.

Classrooms are full of students who have different needs. It might not always make sense to other students as to why someone else has a specific accommodation but students should understand that everyone needs to be treated fairly.

The CommonLit Original lesson "The Test."
The Test by Shelby Ostergaard

The Chicken That Crossed the Road by Gary Soto (5th grade)

Instead of focusing on his English paper, Miguel distracts himself by capturing a chicken he discovers in an alley. He sells the chicken to a miserly neighbor, but soon begins to regret that decision. Miguel decides he has to rescue the chicken and learns a valuable lesson in the process.

Choosing to do the right thing can be hard; especially when the other option seems less challenging. Miguel’s experience shows us that the decisions we make can have grave consequences, and how we can courageously respond to adversity.

Middle School

The 13th by Shelley Walden (6th grade)

The CommonLit Original lesson "The 13th."
13th by Shelley Walden

Angela thinks her bad luck contributed to COVID-19 and she sets out to try to fix it. Burying broken pieces of her mirror? Finding a roadrunner’s feather? Picking a lucky stone? Along the way, she realizes that COVID-19 is bigger than her and chasing luck isn’t the best way to handle this new situation.

Change can be hard, especially with all the adjustments that have to be made. It’s better to try not to focus so much on things we don’t have control over.

The Satchel by Lynette Samuel (6th grade)

Kojo is adjusting to his new school and is finding it difficult to fit in. Students keep making fun of his satchel and the Ghanaian food his grandmother prepares for him. When his teacher assigns a report to the class, Kojo takes the opportunity to learn more about his Ghanaian culture and the history behind his satchel.

Trying to fit in can be exhausting. It’s so much easier to just be yourself! In this story, students learn to celebrate their differences and learn from each other.

The Roller Coaster by Shelby Ostergaard (6th grade)

Hudson is so excited about the eighth grade class trip to Six Flags but also a little nervous as well. He’s anxious about getting on the rollercoaster but doesn’t want to look silly in front of his friends. Hudson eventually learns to embrace his fears and push himself to do things he’s never done before.

There might be things in life that initially scare us, especially if we’ve never done it before. Having positive support from others and trusting yourself might help you do something you thought you couldn’t!

The CommonLit Original lesson "Old Games, New Territory."
Old Games, New Territory by Khat Patrong

Old Games, New Territory by Khat Patrong (7th grade)

Rashid is a young Canadian basketball player who begins a new life in Florida after the death of his father. When his aunt pushes him to go out and play ball with the locals, he is given a cruel reminder that both life and the game of basketball isn’t always fair.

Life is full of challenges and it can be hard to adapt to change, but it’s easier to focus on the positives and things that you can control. In this story, told in the second-perspective, students can learn about point of view, how it doesn’t pay to stereotype others and how we can grieve, grow and come to terms with loss.

How to Ignore a House on Fire by Nia Boulware (7th grade)

How to Ignore a House on Fire is a unique second-person story, told from an instructional point-of-view, of a young teenager who is faced with taking care of his younger siblings. After being abandoned by his parents, the unnamed protagonist has to grow up really quickly and decide what the future will be for him and his younger siblings. Do they go with the sheriff and risk being split apart or does he follow his hunch and decide to jump on a bus towards Florida in search of family members?

This story is great for teaching students about point-of-view and the power of perspective. Teachers can use this story to generate questions on how perspective and point-of-view can help shape character development as well as theme.

The CommonLit Original lesson "The Night Oak Street Burned Down."
The Night Oak Street Burned Down by Thomas Pool

The Night Oak Street Burned Down by Thomas Pool (8th grade)

There’s a new family in the neighborhood and neighbors are weary about them because they are from somewhere far, far, away. Sarai knows what it’s like to be new in the neighborhood and be treated differently, so she befriends Max. After dealing with sweltering heat for weeks, the whole neighborhood loses power one night except for Max’s house. The neighbors demand answers. Sarai chooses to protect Max when she realizes he’s in danger of being hurt by their angry mob of neighbors.

It can be hard when you stand out among a group of people, especially when others judge you for it. In times like this, it’s important to stay true to who you are.

Upswing by TJ Resler (8th grade)

Social media approval and the integrity of the game of baseball collide in this dystopian short story written by TJ Resler. AJ is a star high school baseball player who struggles to come to terms with his high school’s new rating app system. Rateez was designed to give students more voice in school decisions, but things have spiraled out of control and the players on AJ’s teams are more concerned about performing antics for high ratings than winning games. AJ finds he must choose between a future scholarship and his own love for how the game should be played.

This story explores essential questions such as “What are the costs and benefits of technology?”, “What does the future look like?” and “What makes us who we are?” Teachers can use the story to discuss ideas around how we seek online approval from others, particularly in an increasingly social media driven world.

Mousing Teeth by Avalon A. Manly (8th grade)

Fantasy meets reality in this creepy short story written by Avalon A. Manly. Nova decides their school project is going to be an adventure. They live in Point Pleasant so what else is more exciting than proving the existence of the town’s famous fabled cryptid The Mothman? Nova drags their cousin, Ros, into the adventure and ends up risking both of their lives.

This is a great story for exploring identity and the lengths that we go to in order to fit in. What does it mean to be our true selves? What kind of experiences help us better understand who we are?

High School

Cheboygan Day by Brittany K. Allen (9th grade)

In the town of Kookaburra, there isn’t a lot of excitement outside of the annual Founders’ Day and Seafood Festival. So everyone is intrigued when two new students, Claude and Adele, come to town. As people begin to learn more about them, they begin to treat them in very different ways.

This story explores the power of herd behavior and how people are more prone to follow the crowd. What happens when everyone picks the same side? Do you follow the majority or choose a different side?

The CommonLit Original lesson "The Last Curiosity."
The Last Curiosity by Lucy Tan

The Last Curiosity by Lucy Tan (10th grade)

Humankind has destroyed itself and the world has been left to The Woken, an artificial life form. The Woken know almost everything about the world and its surrounding universe, except one thing: what it really means to be human. In an attempt to satisfy this last curiosity The Woken decide to build artificial human suits, but in order to build an authentic experience, The Woken decide they will have to experiment with something they have never faced before: death.

Tan’s tale follows in the tradition of Bradbury and other great writers who use science fiction to comment on the world we live in. “The Last Curiosity” is a great text to use in the classroom to re-examine the question of what it means to be human.

A high school student sitting at a table and raising their hand.

Ready to learn more?

We’ll be publishing more CommonLit Originals, so stay tuned for more stories in the near future!

Interested in contributing to our library? CommonLit is accepting submissions for highly polished short stories aimed at young people between the ages of 9–14. To learn more about this opportunity, read this blog post.