These 38 essays by children’s and YA authors such as Elizabeth Winthrop, Rita Williams-Garcia, Kirsten Miller, Laurel Snyder, and Wendy Moss, are not your average English assignment, get it written and turn it in, essays. These essays sparkle. From the introduction to this collection:
“For too long, we have held essays captive in the world’s most boring zoo. We’ve taken all the wild words, elaborate arguments, and big hairy ideas found in essays, and we’ve poached them from their natural habitat. We’ve locked essays in an artificial home.
Essay, we must tame you We must squish you into five paragraphs, and we must give you so much structure that you cower in the corner, scared for your life.
The essay’s fate has long looked bleak. But do not despair, for change is brewing. In the following pages, you’ll catch a glimpse of something most people have never seen in the wild. We’ve let essays out of their cages, and we’ve set them loose. We’ve allowed them to go back to their roots.”
So, in this collection we have a variety of essays, all written with creativity and flair.
How about a personal essay: Ransom Riggs on “Camp Dread, or How to Survive a Shockingly Awful Summer”? It’s a new twist on “What I Did Last Summer.”
Or perhaps a persuasive essay on why we should (Chris Higgins) or shouldn’t (Chris Higgins again) colonize Mars or why the author (Kirsten Miller) believes “Sasquatch Is Out There (And He Wants Us to Leave Him Alone)” or “Why We Need Tails” by Ned Vizzini.
A character analysis essay on Princess Leia (Cecil Castellucci, who is a female, by the way) or Super Mario (Alan Gratz).
The authors take on subjects such as memories (Rita Williams-Garcia), time machines (Steve Almond), life before television (Elizabeth Winthrop), invisibility (Maile Meloy), humpback anglerfish (Michael Hearst) and names (Jennifer Lu).
Did you know you can write graphic essays with pictures (“Penguin Etiquette” by Chris Epting) or cartoons (“On Facing My Fears” by Khalid Birdsong)?
My favorite essay of the bunch, because it spoke to me as a parent, was Lena Roy’s “Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll”. I won’t tell you the details of Ms. Roy’s adolescent adventures with being “cool”, but I will refer you to the essay in which her dad makes some very wise parenting decisions and gives the young Lena some very wise words to live by:
“Words matter, Lena. What we say about ourselves matter. The words we use to represent ourselves matter. You know that. We only have so many ways we can express ourselves, and words are the most powerful.”
These essays are examples for teens (and adults) of how words can matter in a good way, how, to use the title of yet another essay in this collection, “A Single Story Can Change Many Lives” (Craig Kielburger). It’s time for us all to start writing those stories— in un-squished, wild, and powerful essays.
What a great tool for teachers and what a great illustration of what the essay can be for students of all ages!