At the beginning of this school year, it was my goal to help my students become stronger writers in the art of the monstrous, tiresome, hideous, boring essay. One way I wanted them to improve was by feeling passionately (or at least feeling something) for the topics they were writing about. But aside from that, I wanted them to understand that there is no set structure in writing an essay – five paragraphs might cut it, but so might three, or four, or seven, or ten. Some topics shine clearest amidst story telling and anecdotes. Some topics call for humor. Some topics need to be more of a conversation. Not all of my writers have mastered this more meaningful type of essay-writing, but I have seen immense progress. I owe it all to the book, Breakfast on Mars and 37 Other Delectable Essays.
When I first bought the book, I immediately flipped through to find essays related to literary analysis, since that is what I was focusing on improving this year. What I found was even more amazing! The index of Breakfast on Mars is neatly organized into several categories (my type-A heart was about to explode out of my chest): Personal Essays, Literary Analysis Essays, Informative/How-To Essays, Persuasive Essays, and Graphic Essays. But wait, there’s more! Because the editors are geniuses, there is an additional index of the possible writing prompts you can use with your students that have been inspired by each essay.
What’s so wonderful about this book is that the essays are written by famous authors (Scott Westerfeld, Wendy Mass, and Alan Gratz, just to name a few), so not only are your students reading well-written, creative, interesting essays, they are also learning about great authors they may not have heard of before. And the topics are so engaging and relatable, it’s like Kix cereal – kids don’t even know that what they’re reading is informative, effective writing, because they’re so (gasp!) enthralled! The topics range from serious (“A Single Story Can Change Many Lives”), to oddly fascinating (“The Incredibly Amazing Humpback Anglerfish”), to hilarious (“Creative Boot Camp”), and everywhere in between. I have not only used these essays as models of great writing, or writing prompts to inspire great discussions, but I’ve also used them to check reading skills and to show students how reading and writing can be so much fun. It’s gotten to the point where students have been asking if they could borrow my copy to read…for fun!
If there is one book you buy for yourself this year, let it be Breakfast on Mars. Heck, even if you don’t teach, it is a gem definitely worth making room for on your book shelf. If you’ve already been acquainted with this delicious book, how have you been using it in your classroom?