Free Smart Pop YA Essay: O, To Be in Oxford

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Navigating the Golden Compass

O, To Be in Oxford

by Richard Harland

I want to ride through the night on an armored polar bear! I want to cut holes in the air and step through into other worlds! I want to fly in an airship over the Arctic snow! But most of all, I want to live like Lyra as a kid in her alternative Oxford!

What a life! Running on the rooftops, spitting plumstones onto the heads of passersby, engaging in alliances and wars, pelting the enemy with clods of earth! Or exploring underground cellars, drinking forbidden wine! Best of all–no parents!

Let’s face it. What’s the worst thing about being a kid in this non-alternative present-day reality of ours? It’s the way parents and adults want to involve themselves in your life, right? It’s the surveillance. Loving surveillance, caring surveillance–but still surveillance. Someone is always worrying themselves sick over you. If it’s not parents, it’s all the other adults. Medical specialists …

Available Until Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: The Language of the Heart

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Demigods and Monsters

The Language of the Heart

by Sophie Masson

When I was about nine, I had a horrible recurring dream. It was pretty simple. All I could see was a face, which at first was small and in the distance, but then got bigger and bigger till it seemed to be right on top of me. I couldn’t see a body, just a face. It was a monstrous face: very, very pale, almost gray-skinned, with big staring eyes so pale they seemed almost white and a thin pale mouth that opened on to long yellow teeth tipped with red. Straggly hair that seemed to move and lift in an invisible wind blew out aroundthe face as if there was an electric current running through it, or as if each hair was alive and wriggling horribly. I always woke up just as the mouth opened wide on a terrible scream, and I’d be screaming myself, yelling my head off.

My mother …

Available Until Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: My Boyfriend Sparkles

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A New Dawn

My Boyfriend Sparkles

by Anne Ursu

Each night I ask the stars above Why must I be a teenager in love?

–Dion and the Belmonts

Bella Swan thinks of her relationship with the vampire Edward Cullen in great sweeping terms–Romeo and Juliet, Catherine and Heathcliff. And their story certainly has echoes of those iconic lovers; they are star-crossed, ardent, destined for each other, eternal, doomed. But as extraordinary as their relationship is, it is also quite ordinary, and familiar. The overwhelming intensity of their romance makes sense because Bella and Edward are teenagers, and never is the rhetoric of star-crossed love and eternity so plausible as at that time in life. And while Edward isn’t exactly human, their relationship is very much so, and its course closely follows familiar tropes of teen love, for better or for worse. Bella Swan’s relationship with Edward Cullen is immortal, dangerous, forbidden, impassioned, allconsuming–in short, exactly like first love.

I Was …

Available Until Thursday, March 29th, 2018

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Missing the Point

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Through the Wardrobe

Missing the Point

by Sarah Beth Durst

Remember Bambi? Cute deer. Cute bunny. Cute skunk. Very scary forest fire. Very traumatic death of Bambi’s mother. . . . Yeah, I don’t actually remember that last part. Seriously, when I saw Bambi, I didn’t realize that his mother died. I thought that Bambi’s parents were simply divorced and now it was time for his dad to have custody. Later, I was the kid in high school English who argued that Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” wasn’t about suicide. I thought it was a very nice poem about a pretty New England forest like the one behind my house, which was quite lovely, dark, and deep. So as you might imagine, I was also the kid who totally missed all the religious symbolism in the Narnia books.

But I still loved the books.

Why? Why do these books hold such sway over the hearts and imagination of …

Available Until Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Why Do So Many Monsters Go Into Retail?

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Demigods and Monsters

Why Do So Many Monsters Go Into Retail?

by Cameron Dokey

It’s not easy being a young demigod.

Just ask Percy Jackson. He can tell you.

Always assuming he has time to catch his breath between pursuing a quest or being pursued by the forces of evil hot on his trail, sometimes literally breathing down his neck right behind him.

In Shakespeare, there’s a stage direction that reads: Exit, pursued by a bear. (I am not either making this up. You can look it up for yourself if you want to. It’s in The Winter’s Tale, Act III, scene 3. And you thought Shakespeare was just some stuffy dead guy.)

But my point, and I do have one, is that the character in Shakespeare had it lucky. At least he knew it was a bear behind him. Whenever Percy Jackson flees the scene, he never knows what shape the thing after him might take. That’s one of the challenges of being chased by monsters. And …

Available Until Tuesday, March 27th, 2018

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: The War between the States

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A Visitor's Guide to Mystic Falls

The War between the States

by Claudia Gray

The online protests began around the time the makers of The Vampire Diaries cast Nina Dobrev as Elena Gilbert. Were fans of the book series worried that Dobrev couldn’t carry the central role? Nope. Were they advocating for another fan-favorite candidate? No again. There was no way Dobrev could play Elena–because Dobrev is a brunette, and in the original L.J. Smith books, Elena is a blonde.

It seems like a pretty small thing to get upset about, but when it comes to adapting a beloved book into film or television, fans understandably dread the inevitable changes. We’ve all been burned before by books that got “dumbed down” or turned into something unrecognizable from the story we originally loved. Even alterations as minor as a character’s hair color set off warning bells, making those of us who loved the books wonder just what else was about to get changed. But …

Available Until Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Smoke and Mirrors

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The Girl Who Was on Fire

Smoke and Mirrors

by Elizabeth M. Rees

smoke and mirrors: cover-up; something that is intended to draw attention away from something else that somebody would prefer remain unnoticed

–Encarta World English Dictionary

smoke and mirrors: irrelevant or misleading information serving to obscure the truth of a situation

–Collins English Dictionary

When I was a kid my favorite game was “Let’s Pretend.” Every child plays one version or another. You create a world for a day, or an afternoon, complete with rules, with adventures, with tragedies and silly happenings, everything from tea parties to out-and-out galactic warfare. But then your mom calls you in for dinner, or to do chores or homework, and game time ends. Poof! The pretend world evaporates into thin air, never to exist in exactly the same way again.

But what if it never vanished? What if all that pretense, that make-believe, wasn’t imaginary at all? What if your whole world, day-in and day-out, was made up of pretense, lies, and deceit? What if your life or your death …

Available Until Wednesday, March 14th, 2018

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Introduction: Shadowhunters and Downworlders

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Shadowhunters and Downworlders

Introduction: Shadowhunters and Downworlders

by Cassandra Clare

There’s a question that every writer both is intimately familiar with and dreads having to answer. Where did you get the idea for your books?

It’s not because it’s a bad question. It’s a fair question to ask, and it’s not as if we don’t understand why we get asked it–of course people are curious about the genesis of an idea! But the truth is it’s very rare that any book or series of books grows out of one single idea. Usually it grows the way a rolling stone gathers moss or the grit in an oyster adds layers until it’s a pearl. It begins with the seed of an idea, an image or a concept, and then grows from there as the writer adds characters, ideas they love, bits and pieces of their fascinations and interests, until they’ve created a world.

I’ve told the story of “how I got the idea …

Available Until Wednesday, March 7th, 2018

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Stealing Fire From the Gods

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Demigods and Monsters

Stealing Fire From the Gods

by Paul Collins

Growing up is dangerous. Being yourself is dangerous.

In the classic Australian film, Strictly Ballroom, the chief character, Scott, wants to dance his own steps and wants to do it his way. And all Hades breaks loose!

Scott’s attempts at becoming an individual, at becoming himself, are seen as a crime, an act of rebellion, against the social “group” of which he is a member because Scott is not fitting in; he’s not conforming.

Well, neither is Percy Jackson.

Percy is dyslexic, has Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and is always getting into trouble. In most school systems, and society at large, that pretty much makes Percy a loser, the kid least likely to succeed, the kind of kid who’ll never amount to anything and isn’t worth the effort anyway. Ever heard that one before?

Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson series, turns these so-called flaws on their heads.

Like many kids in his position–labeled a misfit, …

Available Until Monday, March 5th, 2018

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Why the Prince Bites It

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Mind-Rain

Why the Prince Bites It

by Gail Sidonie Sobat

And gazing down at her, handsome Prince Charming bent to kiss her lips. Then he swooped her into his strong arms and up onto his shining white steed. They galloped toward his stalwart castle, towers gleaming in the orange rays of the sunset. And she lived happily ever after.

Puke.

As if.

Yes, it is a fairy tale. But honestly. Such endings are the wistful wish-fulfillment fantasies of erstwhile dreamy peasant girls–nowadays dreamy new-millennium girls raised on Disney pap and false promises. All that’s missing are the dancing, singing mice and teapot.

Think of the fairy tales you know. The popular gooey ones. And look at the vapid girls who inhabit these tales. Girls without much backbone. Girls who mainly sit pretty, and let the men do the saving and liberating.

Cinderella, who has no more gumption than to be sweet and dress prettily and be home on time. She is rescued by the prince.

Cindy’s …

Available Until Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

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