Free Smart Pop YA Essay: The Politics of Mockingjay

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The Girl Who Was on Fire

The Politics of Mockingjay

by Sarah Darer Littman

Maybe it’s because of my political background, but when I read Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series the focus was never about Team Gale or Team Peeta the way it was for so many readers; the romance was a subplot. I majored in political science in college, and when I’m not writing books for teens, I’m a columnist for Hearst newspapers and a writer and blogger for various political websites, including CT News Junkie and My Left Nutmeg. To my mind, the Hunger Games trilogy was always more about “The System”–a political system that would not just allow but require children to fight to the death in televised games.

According to an interview in the School Library Journal, Collins said she drew her inspiration for the Hunger Games from imagining a cross between the war in Iraq and reality TV, after flipping through the channels one night and seeing the juxtaposition between the coverage of the war and reality TV programming. While I’ve …

Available Until Wednesday, September 18th, 2019

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: The Good Girl Always Goes for the Bad Boy

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A New Dawn

The Good Girl Always Goes for the Bad Boy

by Megan McCafferty

The Twilight series has been on my should-read list for some time. I was drawn to Twilight in the bookstore shortly after it came out. The striking crimson-on-black cover art–pale hands held out in offering, tempting readers with an Edenic apple–bore no resemblance to the glittery pink books surrounding it on the shelves.

Then I read the plot synopsis:

About three things I was absolutely positive:

First, Edward was a vampire.

Second, there was a part of him–and I didn’t know how dominant that part might be–that thirsted for my blood.

And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.

Yikes. As the author of books for teens, it’s my job to familiarize myself with the most popular and best-reviewed books for young adults. But I had no interest in reading a gothic love story about teenage vampires. Generally speaking, I like my teen entertainment to be based on reality. …

Available Until Tuesday, September 17th, 2019

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: It's the Little Things

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Through the Wardrobe

It's the Little Things

by Susan Vaught

Permit me to remind you that a very small size has been bestowed on us Mice, and if we did not guard our dignity, some (who weigh worth by inches) would allow themselves very unsuitable pleasantries at our expense.

Reepicheep the High Mouse offers these words to Aslan in Prince Caspian.

His meaning?

Stop picking on him and his fellow soldier-mice just because they’re little guys. If you judge their worth by inches alone, you’ll pay a wicked price.

As one of the fiercest and most influential warriors of Old Nar-nia–and okay, okay, one of the tiniest–Reepicheep knows that mice and children must always guard their dignity because older, bigger creatures use age and size as an excuse to dismiss the intelligence, skill, and usefulness of smaller creatures. Villains and heroes alike make that error all through the Chronicles of Narnia, especially in Prince Caspian, and it’s–excuse the pun–a big …

Available Until Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Edward, Heathcliff, and Our Other Secret Boyfriends

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A New Dawn

Edward, Heathcliff, and Our Other Secret Boyfriends

by Robin Brande

We all have our ideal, swoon-worthy romantic heroes: Aragorn in Lord of the Rings (sigh), Will Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean, Jack Shepherd on Lost, Justin Timberlake in “SexyBack”–whatever. But in her Twilight series, Stephenie Meyer has handed us the dreamiest of lovers, so beyond our regular fantasies we’re even willing to give up body heat in exchange for sleeping against the cold marble chest of that most perfect of formerly human men, Edward Cullen–giving hope at last to hundreds of men huddled in Antarctica with no sweeties to call their own. (Sorry, guys, but Edward means much more to us than chilly skin. Read on.)

In constructing her ideal mate, and giving him all the qualities a fifteen-year-old (okay, and older) girl needs in a romantic partner, Stephenie Meyer borrows some of the characteristics of other great lovers in literature. She drops hints throughout the series of who those …

Available Until Thursday, September 5th, 2019

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: The Magic of Being Cherokee

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Nyx in the House of Night

The Magic of Being Cherokee

by Jordan Dane

The House of Night series is unique from other vampyre lore in many ways, but when authors P. C. and Kristin Cast add depth to the fictional character of Zoey Redbird by giving her the Native American blood of a Cherokee, that’s where the magic in these novels becomes truly special. Native American culture is used as a springboard for the fictional world depicted in the series. The authors research real Cherokee myths and legends to add color and authenticity, then add creative twists to bring these myths alive on the page. And although the authors have never claimed to be experts on the Cherokee, the strength and depth of the Cherokee Nation shines like a beacon through their young heroine.

Sixteen-year-old Zoey Redbird is from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Though Oklahoma is home to a larger-than-average Cherokee population, Zoey’s Cherokee roots still mean she looks different from the other kids at …

Available Until Wednesday, September 4th, 2019

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Team Shay

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Mind-Rain

Team Shay

by Diana Peterfreund

“Team David or Team Zane?” was a popular question on Westerfansites and forums (and even an Amazon Poll) during the span of the Uglies series’s initial release. Readers enthusiastically debated whether Tally should be romantically linked with David, the self-sufficient, wild-born young man who first leads her into the Smoke, who teaches her how to survive in the wilderness, and who tells her the truth about her not-so-pretty world; or Zane, the charismatic, enigmatic leader of the New Pretty Town clique the Crims, the almost too “extreme” pretty who snaps Tally out of the empty-headed, pretty mindset, who is brave enough to share with her the experimental cure (though it costs him his brain), and who is willing to do anything, absolutely anything, to make up for chickening out and not leaving the city when he was still an ugly.

David or Zane? David or Zane? What love story in the …

Available Until Wednesday, August 28th, 2019

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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 Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: A Glossary of Ancient Greek Myth

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Demigods and Monsters

A Glossary of Ancient Greek Myth

by Nigel Rodgers

A

Achilles

Son of Peleus and the nymph Thetis. When Achilles was born, Thetis held him by one foot and dipped him into the River Styx in an attempt to make him immortal. She almost succeeded; only the spot on his heel by which she held him while he was immersed remained a point of vulnerability–the origin of the term Achilles’ heel, meaning a weakness. Aside from the spot on his heel, Achilles was completely invincible. When he was older, his father sent him to be raised by Chiron the Centaur on Mount Pelion. He is most famous for being a great warrior and for his participation in the Trojan War. He fought on the side of the Greeks under their leader, Agamemnon, after his best friend, Patroclus, was killed. He slew Prince Hector in battle before he himself was killed by an arrow Paris, the Trojan prince, shot at his heel.

(See …

Available Until Friday, August 16th, 2019

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: King Edmund the Cute

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Through the Wardrobe

King Edmund the Cute

by Diana Peterfreund

Let’s get it straight: I wasn’t sitting around writing “Diana Hearts Edmund” in my Trapper Keeper, but I had an enormous crush on Edmund Pevensie when I was a kid. When I admit that to people, then and now, I invariably get a reaction that’s halfway between bemused and appalled. Edmund? they say. Isn’t he the petulant, whiny traitor responsible for Aslan’s death?

Yes, yes he is. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. But that’s only the start of Edmund’s adventures in Narnia. He pulls it together by the end of that book and proceeds to rock out for four more. No, Ed doesn’t leave us with the best first impression in all of literature, but he more than makes up for it in the rest of the series.

If anything, his experiences in the first book1 give him a breadth of knowledge and depth of experience and sorrow …

Available Until Thursday, August 15th, 2019

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: The Inevitable Decline of Decadence

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The Girl Who Was on Fire

The Inevitable Decline of Decadence

by Adrienne Kress

The goal of every culture is to decay through over-civilization; the
factors of decadence–luxury, skepticism, weariness and superstition–are constant. The civilization of one epoch becomes the manure of the
next.

–Cyril Connolly

The Hunger Games trilogy deals with many themes: war, rebellion, the manipulation of media. But it was its concern with societal decadence and its inevitable downfall that made the first book’s release timely. The bestselling YA dystopian series came onto shelves just as the world’s economy took a tumble. For years we’d been living in comfort and excess. Consumerism was rife, and shows like Sex and the City glorified consumption by extolling the virtues of shoes worth hundreds of dollars. Then, suddenly, the party was over, and the world became concerned with trying to save money rather than spend it. Today the idea of wasteful consumption turns our stomachs.

It isn’t as if …

Available Until Wednesday, August 14th, 2019

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