Breakfast on Mars and 37 Other Delectable Essays will inspire students to think differently about the much feared assignment in elementary and middle schools around the country: essay writing.
Rebecca Stern's fifth grade students were bored to death with essay writing, and the one thing Rebecca needed to inspire them—great examples appropriate for kids—was nowhere to be found. Inspired by a challenge, Rebecca joined forces with her friend, social entrepreneur Brad Wolfe, and the two came up with a terrific proposal—to gather together a collection of unconventional essays by some of the best writers around. They have compiled and edited a collection of imaginative, rule-breaking, and untraditional essays that is sure to change the way you think about the essay.
Contributors include: Ransom Riggs, Kirsten Miller, Scott Westerfeld, Alan Gratz, Steve Almond, Jennifer Lou, Chris Higgins, Rita Williams-Garcia, Elizabeth Winthrop, Chris Epting, Sloane Crosley, April Sinclair, Maile Meloy, Daisy Whitney, Khalid Birdsong, Sarah Prineas, Ned Vizzini, Alane Ferguson, Lise Clavel, Mary-Ann Ochota, Steve Brezenoff, Casey Scieszka, Steven Weinberg, Michael Hearst, Clay McLeod Chapman, Gigi Amateau, Laurel Snyder, Wendy Mass, Marie Rutkoski, Sarah Darer Littman, Nick Abadzis, Michael David Lukas, Léna Roy, Craig Kielburger, Joshua Mohr, Cecil Castellucci, Joe Craig, Ellen Sussman
About the Author
Rebecca Stern was an elementary and middle school teacher for ten years and is now a freelance editor. She lives with her husband and their dog, Laika, on a hill in San Francisco.
A Bay Area native, Brad Wolfe helps rising high school seniors craft their college admissions essays. He enjoys the breakthrough moments when his students begin to see their lives as empowering personal narratives, using the essay writing process to uncover their truest passions and aspirations.
Rebecca Stern was an elementary and middle school teacher for ten years and is now a freelance editor. She is the co-author of Breakfast on Mars and 37 Other Delectable Essays. She lives with her husband and their dog, Laika, on a hill in San Francisco.
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Breakfast on Mars and 37 Other Delectable Essays
By Rebecca Stern, Brad Wolfe
Roaring Brook PressCopyright © 2013 Ransom Riggs
All rights reserved.
Camp Dread or How to Survive a Shockingly Awful Summer
by RANSOM RIGGS
It took me about a week to realize I'd been suckered. The ad in the church bulletin had called it a "horseback riding" camp, but by the end of week one, the only thing I'd learned about horses was how to scrape their stalls clean, and the only thing I'd ridden was an electric fence, which I had backed into in what was probably a subconscious escape attempt. But there was no escaping. I was stuck in the swampy middle of nowhere. Cell phones hadn't been invented yet, and neither I nor the other campers had the guts to complain to the swaggering, dip-spitting cowboys who served as both our camp counselors and de facto prison guards. As that fence launched me into the air, arms flailing like a rodeo clown, butt tingling with residual electricity, I made a solemn pledge to myself: never again.
I ended up at horse camp because my mother had decided it was important for me to try new things — her definition of which apparently did not extend to watching new movies at the multiplex or playing new Nintendo 64 games in various friends' basements, which had previously comprised my entire plan for the summer. She had never objected to my lazy summers before, and after nine months of the exceptional torment that was sixth grade, I thought I deserved one more than ever. So naturally I felt a little betrayed when, a mere week after school had ended, she announced that I was off to camp in a few days. And not just any camp — horse camp.
I was baffled too and Mom was short on answers to my many questions. Was I being punished for something? What imaginary crime had I supposedly committed? Did she think I'd actually have fun? I couldn't imagine why, as I'd never expressed even the slightest interest in horses, or horse-related camps, or camps in general. Then, after remembering how the few girls' rooms I'd seen the inside of had been veritable shrines to horses, an admittedly unlikely explanation occurred to me: My mother thinks I'm a girl.
I tried explaining to her that I wasn't a girl, that I didn't know the first thing about horses and didn't care to, and that living in an un-air- conditioned cabin with strangers in the sweltering summer heat of Central Florida made little sense when I had air-conditioning and video games and friends to play them with at home. She acted as if she hadn't heard me.
When arguing failed, I tried begging. When begging had no effect, I resorted to silent fuming and passive-aggressive door slamming. Despite everything, she would not be swayed.
"It's only camp," she said. "You'll survive."
Finally, all that was left for me to do was dread.
There were so many things to dread about this camp that it was hard to know which to focus on. There was the inescapable heat, the nightly hymn-singing — an inevitable feature of church-affiliated camps — and the possibility of being kicked at, gnawed on, thrown from, or otherwise molested by a horse. But the pit-of-my-stomach dread, the thing I went to bed dreading and woke up in the morning still dreading, was that for the first time in as long as I could remember, I would be stuck in a place where I had absolutely no friends. Hymns and horse tramplings are survivable provided you have a friend to share your misery with, but I would be leaving my merry band of like-minded nerds behind, and had no idea how to replace them on short notice.
The popular kids I knew seemed to make friends effortlessly. Their cliques grew and blossomed and rotated members on a daily basis. My friend group, on the other hand, was like a rare mold that only grew beneath a certain kind of rock at a specific elevation: There wasn't much of it, it formed very slowly, and it was exceedingly stable. But if a wild mongoose came and ate a bunch of it, the mold wasn't going to grow back in any big hurry. In other words, I knew how to have friends, but I'd had them for so long I couldn't remember how to make them — and I wasn't at all certain I could learn.
The fateful day arrived. I tossed a bag of wrinkled clothes into the trunk of my mom's car and slumped into the passenger seat. We left our beach-adjacent suburb for the mosquito-haunted swamps of Florida's primeval interior. The farther inland we drove, the wilder the landscape became. First, the chain stores and strip malls faded away. Then the road narrowed from four lanes to two, towered over by giant, grasping live oaks hung with nets of swaying Spanish moss. Long stretches of pavement had no markings at all save the polka-dot speckle of squashed armadillos. Along the shoulder, deep ditches brimmed with drowning pools of stagnant rainwater.
"You'll have a nice time," Mom said. "You'll see."
I felt like I was being driven to my own funeral.
After what seemed like hours, we finally arrived at the camp: a cluster of squat cabins, a stable, a few dusty campsites. We pulled into a parking lot crowded with mud-splashed pickup trucks and got out, and that's when I caught my first glimpse of the kids who would be my fellow campers. They were all milling around the campsite, acting bored and cool, every one of them wearing variations of the same outfit: cowboy boots, T-shirt tucked into high-waisted jeans, baseball cap with the bill curled into a little tunnel that hid the eyes from view. As I stood watching them, country music whining from a stereo somewhere, I realized that the main problem with horse camp wouldn't be the lack of air-conditioning or the bugs or being forced to interact with large animals that presumably wanted nothing to do with me, but that horse camp would be populated with the sort of kids who wanted to be at horse camp, who liked the idea of spending weeks in the hot middle of nowhere pretending to be cowboys. Among people like that, I may as well have been an alien.
In that instant, I gave up all hope of making friends and resigned myself to being a loner for the next two weeks. Now I know what you're probably thinking — and you're wrong. This isn't one of those stories where the popular kid defends me from a bully and we become besties for life and the reader learns a valuable lesson about how much rednecks from the boonies and nerds from the suburbs have in common. I'd made up my mind that horse camp was going to be the worst two weeks ever, and that's more or less what it was. I barely talked to anyone. I shoveled a lot of horse poop. A kid they called Big Dan pushed me around a little, but my response to his taunts was so muted — I'd long ago learned not to give bullies what they wanted, which was a big reaction — that he quickly moved on to another target. Mostly I was just lonely and bored; the most exciting thing that happened was that I got a jaggedy-looking scar on my butt where I touched that electric fence.
Eventually camp ended, and my mom came to pick me up. She asked how it was and I said "horrible" and told her about my solemn pledge never to go to camp again, and she seemed okay with it. As far as she was concerned, I had experienced something new, and that had been the whole idea. That the new thing had been feeling like a giant unfriendable loser for two weeks was beside the point.
As for my pledge, it lasted exactly three years. I'd kind of gotten it into my head that I wanted to be a writer, and when I found out about this camp for young writers that met every summer at a college in Virginia, I decided against my better judgment to give it a try. This time, though, I convinced a friend from home to go with me, as a sort of insurance policy, in case the kids at writing camp were scary or weird or didn't like me. I didn't spend too much time worrying about it, though, and I think that made all the difference.
Neither of us had trouble making friends at writing camp, even though the kids there came from lots of different backgrounds and liked all kinds of different things. I had the time of my life, went back the next two summers, and now, years later, am proud to count some of the people I met there among my best friends.
So it turned out that I was totally friendable after all, and I'd been way overthinking the whole how-you-make-friends thing. I thought about it so much, in fact, that back in horse camp I'd gotten discouraged and given up on new-friend-making entirely. I had a terrible time because I told myself I would, and in the sixth grade, being right had been more important to me than being happy. But for all my self-inflicted suffering, it was Mom who was right: It was only camp. I survived.
I still don't like horses, though.CHAPTER 2
Sasquatch Is Out There (And He Wants Us to Leave Him Alone)
by KIRSTEN MILLER
A species of large, apelike creatures inhabits the forests of America's Pacific Northwest. We call them Sasquatch or Bigfoot. Although we do not know what they call themselves, they almost certainly have a name for their kind. The Sasquatch are hairy, but that doesn't mean that they're unintelligent. The fact that we still haven't proved that the Sasquatch exist suggests that the species may be smarter than we ever imagined.
There is ample evidence that we share this continent with an unidentified species. Anthropologists say Native Americans were telling tales of giant, "hairy men" long before outsiders ever arrived on these shores. These days, the enormous footprints that gave Bigfoot his name are frequently discovered by hikers and hunters. Many of the prints may be hoaxes, but experts insist that a few are so detailed that they couldn't be fake. Swatches of coarse, reddish hair have been collected near Sasquatch tracks and sightings. According to Dr. Jeffrey Meldrum, associate professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University, some of these samples appear to belong to a species of primate. But the hair isn't human — and it doesn't match any other ape in the database. Whatever the mysterious creatures may be, thousands of eyewitnesses — including police officers and pastors — have reported encounters with them. Hundreds of people have even managed to catch a Sasquatch on camera. Unfortunately, the pictures tend to be grainy, and the videos are often out of focus. The Sasquatch almost always refuse to pose.
Yet despite all the evidence, many (okay, most) scientists claim that the Sasquatch are nothing more than a legend. They all hang their hats on one simple fact: We've been searching for years, but we've never produced a body. A living Sasquatch has never been captured. The remains of dead specimens have never been found.
Even the rarest, most elusive creatures end up shot by hunters, captured by researchers, or flattened by speeding cars, the skeptics will say. No wild animal is crafty enough to avoid us forever. However, there may be a simple reason why the Sasquatch continue to give us the slip. Perhaps they aren't wild animals. We see photos of furry beasts and immediately assume they're no smarter than your average gorilla. But what if we've been underestimating the Sasquatch all these years? Perhaps they aren't beasts at all, but an unknown species of human.
Stick with me here, because this is not quite as crazy as it sounds. We (Homo sapiens) are not the only species of human to have called this planet home. In 1829, bones of another species, the Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis), were first discovered in Belgium. These big, brawny hominids once mingled with our kind in Europe and Asia. While they are often portrayed as dimwitted brutes, Neanderthals were a fairly intelligent bunch. Not only were they as smart as our ancestors, it's possible that the two groups could have mated, which means the Neanderthals may actually be ancestors to millions of you. (Please note that I didn't say us.)
For almost two hundred years after that big Belgian discovery, everyone was completely convinced that the Homo family tree had only two branches. Then in 2003, archaeologists uncovered proof that a tiny, hobbitlike species now known as Flores Man (Homo floresiensis) lived in the jungles of Indonesia as recently as twelve thousand years ago. Evidence of a fourth human species, the Denisovans, was found in a Russian cave in 2010.
Throughout the twentieth century, the scientific community would have laughed at anyone who had dared suggest that four species of humans might have once shared the earth. None of those scientists are laughing right now. Today, most would admit that more unknown species could be awaiting discovery. Archaeologists all over the world are currently ransacking caves, searching for the bones of manlike creatures that have been extinct for thousands of years.
But if we know there have been other types of humans, why would we assume that Homo sapiens is the only group to survive to the present day? Perhaps there's another living species of human — a hairy distant cousin that looks as little like us as the burly Neanderthals or miniature Flores Man. Our scientists may be out digging for fossils, but the undiscovered species they're seeking could be hiding — and thriving — in our own backyards.
Is it possible that an intelligent hominid species could remain undiscovered well into the twenty-first century? We can look to our fellow Homo sapiens for the answer. Around the globe, small tribes of human beings continue to live in complete isolation. They are often referred to as "uncontacted peoples" because they've had no known contact with the outside world. Between 2004 and 2007, twenty-seven such tribes were discovered in the nation of Brazil alone. That's twenty-seven separate groups of people who were hunting, gathering, and raising their families in the Amazon basin — and the rest of us had no clue they were out there.
Of course, it would be foolish to assume that all "uncontacted" tribes know as little about us as we do about them. Some of the tribes may have been studying us for years. Perhaps we haven't "found" them because, like the Sasquatch, they don't want us to find them.
If you're part of a small tribe that doesn't want to be bothered, the Amazon jungle may be the perfect place to call home. But the Pacific Northwest isn't a bad bet, either. There are 4.6 million acres of protected forest on the American side. Add in the woodlands of neighboring Canada, and you have more than enough wilderness to shelter and feed nomadic tribes of Sasquatch. From time to time, a few curious individuals may leave the dense forest to sneak a peek at the Homo sapiens, but the Sasquatch tribes have learned it's best to avoid people and their guns. The fact that they choose to steer clear of us — a species that decorates its homes with the heads of other animals — may be the most convincing proof that the Sasquatch possess high intelligence.
So if the Sasquatch are smart and do their best to avoid discovery, it's not surprising that we've never managed to capture a live specimen. Then bring us a corpse, the skeptics will say — as if the Sasquatch were unfeeling brutes who abandon their dead. Even if that were the case, a carcass wouldn't last long on the forest floor. But most intelligent species don't leave the bodies of their friends and family to be picked over by scavengers. Perhaps the Sasquatch bury their dead or dispose of the corpses in bodies of water. And there's always a chance that they eat their deceased loved ones the way the Neanderthals did. (There's a very big difference between smart and civilized.)
In conclusion, it is entirely plausible that the Sasquatch aren't monsters, apes, or mythical creatures, but rather an unknown species of human. Highly intelligent hominids, they may live in small tribes that wander the vast North American wilderness. They care for their young and dispose of their dead. And they do not want the pleasure of our company.
Those who accept that the Sasquatch are out there — but find it hard to imagine that they might be intelligent — would be wise to keep one thing in mind. We, Homo sapiens, have a very long history of underestimating our fellow animals. (Did you know crows can count? That elephants paint and mourn their dead? That dolphins speak in their own private language? I've even seen a chicken play tic-tac-toe.) Let's be honest, if the Sasquatch were a little less hairy, they would probably get far more respect.
Of course, there will always be die-hard skeptics who will need to see a body before they concede that the Sasquatch are real. But there is one thing upon which everyone can agree: The world would be a much more interesting place if the Sasquatch did exist.CHAPTER 3
Warning: This Essay Does Not Contain Pictures
by SCOTT WESTERFELD
Cast your mind back. Remember when you were seven or eight years old and, for the first time, someone handed you a book with no pictures.
"No pictures?" you may have asked. "Well, this kind of sucks."
Sure, the pictures had been getting fewer and the print size smaller as you got older, but suddenly here was a book with zero pictures. The adult handing you the book had an explanation: "You're a big kid now, and big kids don't like pictures in their books. Now you get to use your imagination!"
Maybe you were suspicious of this argument at first. Yes, you were a big kid, but you had nothing against pictures. The images in your books had never stopped you from using your imagination before. As time passed, though, you got used to books having no pictures. Why would a novel for adults or teenagers need illustrations? Picture books are for little kids, right?
Well, I'm here to tell you something. Your suspicions back then were correct; everything that helpful adult was telling you was a lie.
Excerpted from Breakfast on Mars and 37 Other Delectable Essays by Rebecca Stern, Brad Wolfe. Copyright © 2013 Ransom Riggs. Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
FOREWORD BY MARGARET CHO,
A SPECIAL NOTE TO TEACHERS,
"CAMP DREAD OR HOW TO SURVIVE A SHOCKINGLY AWFUL SUMMER" by Ransom Riggs,
"SASQUATCH IS OUT THERE (AND HE WANTS US TO LEAVE HIM ALONE)" by Kirsten Miller,
"WARNING: THIS ESSAY DOES NOT CONTAIN PICTURES" by Scott Westerfeld,
"IT'S ON LIKE DONKEY KONG" by Alan Gratz,
"THE WORLD IS FULL OF TIME MACHINES" by Steve Almond,
"HELLO, MY NAME IS" by Jennifer Lou,
"BREAKFAST ON MARS: WHY WE SHOULD COLONIZE THE RED PLANET" by Chris Higgins,
"ROBOTS ONLY: WHY WE SHOULDN'T COLONIZE MARS" by Chris Higgins,
"RECALL AND DEFEND" by Rita Williams-Garcia,
"MY LIFE BEFORE TELEVISION" by Elizabeth Winthrop,
"A RITE OF PASSAGE (AND THE IMPORTANCE OF PENGUIN ETIQUETTE)" by Chris Epting,
"NATURAL LIGHT" by Sloane Crosley,
"HOME GIRL" by April Sinclair,
"INVISIBILITY" by Maile Meloy,
"THE MOST FAMOUS FAIRY-TALE CAT OF ALL IS A FURRY-FACED FABULIST" by Daisy Whitney,
"ON FACING MY FEARS" by Khalid Birdsong,
"RAISED BY WOLVES" by Sarah Prineas,
"WHY WE NEED TAILS" by Ned Vizzini,
"DEATH IS ONLY A HORIZON" by Alane Ferguson,
"BLUE JEANS, CAT STEVENS, AND MY FIRST KISS" by Lise Clavel,
"KING ARTHUR'S GREAT POWER" by Mary-Ann Ochota,
"A THOUSAND TRUTHS: (MOSTLY) A GOOD DOG" by Steve Brezenoff,
"DEATH BY HOST FAMILY" by Casey Scieszka and Steven Weinberg,
"THE INCREDIBLY AMAZING HUMPBACK ANGLERFISH" by Michael Hearst,
"SHOWERING WITH SPIDERS" by Clay McLeod Chapman,
"RIVER GIRL" by Gigi Amateau,
"A GOOD LIE" by Laurel Snyder,
"HOW TO FLY" by Wendy Mass,
"BLUEBERRIES" by Marie Rutkoski,
"BANNING BOOKS — AN UN-AMERICAN ACT" by Sarah Darer Littman,
"LAIKA ENDINGS" by Nick Abadzis,
"FROM SEED TO FLOWER" by Michael David Lukas,
"SEX, DRUGS, AND ROCK 'N' ROLL" by Léna Roy,
"A SINGLE STORY CAN CHANGE MANY LIVES" by Craig Kielburger,
"CREATIVE BOOT CAMP" by Joshua Mohr,
"PRINCESS LEIA IS AN AWESOME ROLE MODEL" by Cecil Castellucci,
"THE ONLY JOB I'VE EVER HAD" by Joe Craig,
"BREAK THE RULES" by Ellen Sussman,
INDEX BY ESSAY TYPE,
INDEX OF ESSAY PROMPTS,