Chris Higgins
Chris Higgins

"Breakfast on Mars," the Book Your Middle-Schooler Needs

Chris Higgins
Chris Higgins

There's a new book by Ransom Riggs, Chris Higgins (me), and dozens of other terrific writers. It's called Breakfast on Mars, and it features essays written for students by writers who can actually make "the dreaded essay assignment" interesting. If you know a middle schooler slogging through boring essays and looking for inspiration, you need this book.

I'm particularly proud of this book because I wrote what became the title essay, "Breakfast on Mars." I was handed this assignment: write a persuasive essay (boo!) on whether we should establish a human settlement on Mars (yay!). Being a big space nerd, I called up some Mars experts, read some of the best work on that question, and wrote up the essay, arguing that we should establish a human colony. And then I went ahead and wrote the counter-argument, arguing that we should instead keep sending robots -- because, let's face it, we're really good at sending robots to Mars these days. (This second essay is also included in the book; it's called "Robots Only" and is based largely on "Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control.") At the end of the day, I think we should do both. But my hope was that, given the right topic, I could make a persuasive argument on either side. Want to find out how I did? Please buy the book. (Also be aware that the essays are about all kinds of topics; Mars is only my little corner of the subject area.)

Who Else is In It?

Here's the complete list of authors, in order of appearance. There are 38 essays in the volume:

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 Birdson, 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

You'll note Ransom Riggs up there at the top. Since wrapping up his daily blogging gig here at mental_floss, he's been doing pretty well for himself. His first novel Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children has sold over a million copies, and the movie adaptation is slated for release in July, 2015 -- directed by Tim Burton. (!) The sequel (Hollow City) arrives in early 2014.

I should note that Breakfast on Mars received starred reviews from both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly. I am told that this is a big deal. It also seems important to tell you that this is a charity project for the authors -- we don't get a cut of sales and received only a one-time token payment for the essays themselves. Instead of paying 37 authors piddly royalty checks, the proceeds go to Free the Children. What's not to like?

How Can I Buy It?

I'm so glad you asked. You can find it at your local book store via IndieBound. If you're more of an Amazon buyer, grab it for Kindle (under $9) or in hardcover (under $13). Dig in, everybody!

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Nate D. Sanders Auctions
Sylvia Plath's Pulitzer Prize in Poetry Is Up for Auction
Nate D. Sanders Auctions
Nate D. Sanders Auctions

A Pulitzer Prize in Poetry that was awarded posthumously to Sylvia Plath in 1982 for her book The Collected Poems will be auctioned on June 28. The Los Angeles-based Nate D. Sanders Auctions says bidding for the literary document will start at $40,000.

The complete book of Plath’s poetry was published in 1981—18 years after her death—and was edited by her husband, fellow poet Ted Hughes. The Pulitzer Prize was presented to Hughes on Plath’s behalf, and one of two telegrams sent by Pulitzer President Michael Sovern to Hughes read, “We’ve just heard that the Collected Plath has won the Pulitzer Prize. Congratulations to you for making it possible.” The telegrams will also be included in the lot, in addition to an official congratulatory letter from Sovern.

The Pultizer’s jury report from 1982 called The Collected Poems an “extraordinary literary event.” It went on to write, “Plath won no major prizes in her lifetime, and most of her work has been posthumously published … The combination of metaphorical brilliance with an effortless formal structure makes this a striking volume.”

Ted Hughes penned an introduction to the poetry collection describing how Plath had “never scrapped any of her poetic efforts,” even if they weren’t all masterpieces. He wrote:

“Her attitude to her verse was artisan-like: if she couldn’t get a table out of the material, she was quite happy to get a chair, or even a toy. The end product for her was not so much a successful poem, as something that had temporarily exhausted her ingenuity. So this book contains not merely what verse she saved, but—after 1956—all she wrote.”

Also up for auction is Plath’s Massachusetts driver’s license from 1958, at which time she went by the name Sylvia P. Hughes. Bidding for the license will begin at $8000.

Plath's driver's license
Nate D. Sanders Auctions
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Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // ;CC BY-SA 4.0
New 'Eye Language' Lets Paralyzed People Communicate More Easily
Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // ;CC BY-SA 4.0
Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // ;CC BY-SA 4.0

The invention of sign language proved you don't need to vocalize to use complex language face to face. Now, a group of designers has shown that you don't even need control of your hands: Their new type of language for paralyzed people relies entirely on the eyes.

As AdAge reports, "Blink to Speak" was created by the design agency TBWA/India for the NeuroGen Brain & Spine Institute and the Asha Ek Hope Foundation. The language takes advantage of one of the few motor functions many paralyzed people have at their disposal: eye movement. Designers had a limited number of moves to work with—looking up, down, left, or right; closing one or both eyes—but they figured out how to use these building blocks to create a sophisticated way to get information across. The final product consists of eight alphabets and messages like "get doctor" and "entertainment" meant to facilitate communication between patients and caregivers.

Inside of a language book.
Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

This isn't the only tool that allows paralyzed people to "speak" through facial movements, but unlike most other options currently available, Blink to Speak doesn't require any expensive technology. The project's potential impact on the lives of people with paralysis earned it the Health Grand Prix for Good at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity earlier in June.

The groups behind Blink to Speak have produced thousands of print copies of the language guide and have made it available online as an ebook. To learn the language yourself or share it with someone you know, you can download it for free here.

[h/t AdAge]

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