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Chris Higgins

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

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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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Kyle Ely
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school
Dedicated Middle School Teacher Transforms His Classroom Into Hogwarts
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Kyle Ely

It would be hard to dread back-to-school season with Kyle Ely as your teacher. As ABC News reports, the instructor brought a piece of Hogwarts to Evergreen Middle School in Hillsboro, Oregon by plastering his classroom with Harry Potter-themed decor.

The journey into the school's makeshift wizarding world started at his door, which was decorated with red brick wall paper and a "Platform 9 3/4" sign above the entrance. Inside, students found a convincing Hogwarts classroom complete with floating candles, a sorting hat, owl statues, and house crests. He even managed to recreate the starry night sky effect of the school’s Great Hall by covering the ceiling with black garbage bags and splattering them with white paint.

The whole project cost the teacher around $300 to $400 and took him 70 hours to build. As a long-time Harry Potter fan, he said that being able to share his love of the book series with his students made it all pay off it. He wrote in a Facebook post, "Seeing their faces light up made all the time and effort put into this totally worth it."

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Though wildly creative, the Hogwarts-themed classroom at Evergreen Middle School isn't the first of its kind. Back in 2015, a middle school teacher in Oklahoma City outfitted her classroom with a potions station and a stuffed version of Fluffy to make the new school year a little more magical. Here are some more unique classroom themes teachers have used to transport their kids without leaving school.

[h/t ABC News]

Images courtesy of Kyle Ely.

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literature
How the Rise of Paperback Books Turned To Kill a Mockingbird Into a Literary Classic
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Tim Boyle/Getty Images

If you went to middle or high school in the U.S. in the last few decades, chances are you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's now-classic novel (which was adapted into a now-classic film) about racial injustice in the South. Even if you grew up far-removed from Jim Crow laws, you probably still understand its significance; in 2006, British librarians voted it the one book every adult should read before they die. And yet the novel, while considered an instant success, wasn’t always destined for its immense fame, as we learned from the Vox video series Overrated. In fact, its status in the American literary canon has a lot to do with the format in which it was printed.

To Kill a Mockingbird came out in paperback at a time when literary houses were just starting to invest in the format. After its publication in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was reviewed favorably in The New York Times, but it wasn’t the bestselling novel that year. It was the evolution of paperbacks that helped put it into more hands.

Prior to the 1960s, paperbacks were often kind of trashy, and when literary novels were published in the format, they still featured what Vox calls “sexy covers,” like a softcover edition of The Great Gatsby that featured a shirtless Jay Gatsby on the cover. According to a 1961 article in The New York Times, back in the 1950s, paperbacks were described as “a showcase for the ‘three S’s—sex, sadism, and the smoking gun.’” But then, paperbacks came to schools.

The mass-market paperback for To Kill a Mockingbird came out in 1962. It was cheap, but had stellar credentials, which appealed to teachers. It was a popular, well-reviewed book that earned Lee the Pulitzer Prize. Suddenly, it was in virtually every school and, even half a century later, it still is.

Learn the whole story in the video below from Vox.

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