Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Introduction: Secrets of the Dragon Riders

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Secrets of the Dragon Riders

Introduction: Secrets of the Dragon Riders

by James A. Owen

When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.

–ERASMUS

That quote by Desiderus Erasmus is usually mentioned, wryly, by someone who doesn’t share Erasmus’ point of view about someone who does. I’m so far in the latter category I can’t even see the other side. I am utterly addicted to print, and am physically incapable of passing a newsstand, bookstore, or secondhand shop without giving the books on display at least a cursory glance. More often than not (which means practically every single time) I make some kind of a purchase, and for a moment that new book might as well have been under a Christmas tree for all the love I foster on it.

To a lot of people, it might seem as if my priorities are a bit skewed–but I’m really just engaging in something as old …

Available Until Thursday, April 9th, 2020

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Introduction: Ender's World

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Ender's World

Introduction: Ender's World

by Orson Scott Card

I thought I had a pretty good story when I gave my first draft of the original novelet “Ender’s Game” to my mother to type up for submission.

My mother had been another set of eyes on all my plays and my handful of previous stories. So even though I had long been a very fast and accurate typist myself, I passed her my longhand manuscript because I wanted to see how the story would work for her. This was my first serious attempt to write a sci-fi story to sell. My theatre company was getting good attendance, but losing money even with no rent and no salaries to pay (you can lose money on hit plays). I needed “Ender’s Game” to help me launch a non-theatrical writing career. As a non-fan of sci-fi, my mother would definitely let me know if I had something that would work outside the science …

Available Until Wednesday, April 8th, 2020

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Destination: Forks, Washington

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A New Dawn

Destination: Forks, Washington

by Cara Lockwood

I don’t like road trips. And I’ll tell you why.

Sure, there’s the whole being trapped in a car for hours eating Big Macs for days thing, while your legs go numb and you start wondering if it’s possible to die of boredom.

But for me it’s more than that.

I could handle death by French fry. What I can’t handle is driving by all those small towns.

Some people love small towns. My stepdad grew up on a farm, and he loves taking those winding back roads in the country–the ones lined with cows on either side, and green hills and trees, that have blinking red lights because there’s not enough traffic for a single stoplight. Even my mom likes shopping in small towns. She says she finds good antiques there.

But any time I get away from the city and I find myself far from a major highway on one of those two-lane …

Available Until Wednesday, April 1st, 2020

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: The Divine Cat

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Nyx in the House of Night

The Divine Cat

by Ellen Steiber

I might as well admit my prejudice up front: I’ve been crazy about cats for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been lucky enough to live with them for most of my life. So one of the things that immediately drew me into the House of Night series was the cats. Cats everywhere, roaming freely, and always welcome in the dorms, cafeteria, stables, and even the classrooms–basically my idea of the perfect school. Then I was completely charmed by Nala, the sneezey, often grumpy, little cat who chooses Zoey for her own. P.C. and Kristin Cast clearly know and love their cats, and it’s a delight to see how they use them in these books. Not only do they create very real felines–sweet, moody, comforting, and impossible to predict or control–but they make creative use of some of the mythic and mystical lore that has been …

Available Until Monday, March 30th, 2020

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Eating in Narnia

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Through the Wardrobe

Eating in Narnia

by Diane Duane

One thing a traveler among universes quickly discovers is that, in many of them, the food’s terrible.

This is at least partly a situational problem–a matter of perception. Normally, when people from Earth pass through other fictional universes, they’re not there for a pleasure cruise. Normally there’s a quest involved, so that they usually wind up running away from something (Orcs, unfriendly armies, assassins, eldritch monsters), hiding from something (ditto), or otherwise getting too preoccupied with local events to care much about the catering. While this is entirely understandable, it’s still unfortunate. Unless a given universe’s creator is kind to you, you will never have a chance to sit down and appreciate the local cuisine. Among the less kind (or lazier) creators, you’re likely to wind up eating nothing but the fantasy version of fast food: waybread. No matter what kind of valuable life lessons you might learn from such a …

Available Until Thursday, March 26th, 2020

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Role Models

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Flirtin' with the Monster

Role Models

by Niki Burnham

I write books about teenagers, primarily for teenagers (though teen-savvy adults read them, too). Some of the books have stylized cartoon covers, tipping off the reader that what’s on the pages is comedy. Despite that, over the years I’ve received many letters from concerned parents, questioning whether or not my books are appropriately shelved. They cite the fact that some of the characters use foul language, that one character has a gay mother, or that one character smokes (ignoring the fact that she quits) in support of their argument that my writing is a “bad influence” on teen readers. I’m often taken to task for not living up to my “responsibility” as an author to provide teenagers with good role models.

While I understand their concerns, I believe that attempting to limit teens’ reading to “good role models” is the wrong way to go about educating teens about the world in which we all live.

When sitting down to craft a story, an author’s primary responsibility …

Available Until Wednesday, March 25th, 2020

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Forgotten Castles and Magical Creatures in Hiding

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Through the Wardrobe

Forgotten Castles and Magical Creatures in Hiding

by Brent Hartinger

A wild forest grew across the street from the house in the suburbs where I grew up. Technically, it was merely a “holding basin”–a patch of land that city engineers had set aside from development to hold back the floodwaters that occasionally swelled up from the little creek that ran through the neighborhood. But it was dense and untamed; much of it was swampland, which made it inaccessible to all but those with a strong sense of adventure, not to mention hip-boots.

As a boy, my friends and I spent almost every waking hour in that forest, and slowly but surely it surrendered its secrets: a broken well, a decaying shack left by homesteaders, part of an abandoned railroad track said to have been laid over an old Indian trail. Once, while walking through dense thicket in the fall, my friends and I noticed that many of the trees were suddenly …

Available Until Monday, March 23rd, 2020

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Prince to King

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Through the Wardrobe

Prince to King

by Elizabeth E. Wein

Once a king or queen in Narnia, always a king or queen.” That’s what Aslan tells the Pevensie children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, as they take the four thrones at Cair Paravel in their first Narnian adventure, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. If you count pages, no king in C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books actually gets more airtime than Caspian X. He plays a starring role in two books, Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but in fact he’s also king of Narnia throughout The Silver Chair.

From the day Caspian is forced to run away because his uncle Miraz wants to kill him, Caspian is called “king” by his tutor, the half-Dwarf Doctor Cornelius. The rest of the book describes how Caspian manages to win his kingdom back from Miraz. So why is the book called Prince Caspian instead of King Caspian?

I …

Available Until Wednesday, March 18th, 2020

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: The Modern-Day Perceval

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Secrets of the Dragon Riders

The Modern-Day Perceval

by Joshua Pantalleresco

A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.

–Christopher Reeve

Heroes are the foundation of epic fantasy. I’ve enjoyed heroic tales ever since I picked up my first comic book at the age of eight. There was something larger than life about someone making a difference that stuck with me. It influenced me to read my first fantasy novel. Fantasy and comics aren’t that different at heart: Both feature great evils bent on destroying all the heroes hold dear, whether it’s something personal like their family or something larger such as their hometown or even the whole world. What fascinates me to this day is how each hero responds to crisis.

There are different kinds of heroes. Some are like Superman or King Arthur and possess all the tools to become a great hero– they have the skills, the …

Available Until Tuesday, March 17th, 2020

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Community in the Face of Tyranny

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The Girl Who Was on Fire

Community in the Face of Tyranny

by Bree Despain

Being a tyrant is easy, really. All you have to do is take away people’s freedom. Many people in today’s society take certain liberties for granted: freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, free commerce, free press, and more simple freedoms such as travel and easy communication–all things that make a community strong and viable. But what if in one swift movement all of these liberties were taken away? That’s what the Capitol did to the districts of Panem. After the first unsuccessful rebellion of the districts against the Capitol seventy-five years ago, the Capitol retaliated by taking every measure it could to destroy the feeling of community within the districts and between the districts, controlling and isolating people in order to keep them from rebelling again.

The most literal meaning of community is “to give among each other.” Essentially, to share something amongst a group–whether that’s information (communication), goods, common goals, …

Available Until Wednesday, March 11th, 2020

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