Tips to tackle the dreaded essay

Tips to tackle the dreaded essay

"Breakfast on Mars: Your Favorite Authors Take a Stab at the Dreaded Essay Assignment" is a brilliant way to teach teenagers, college students and even adults how to write an essay that is not boring or terrible.

This is the perfect book for teachers, parents, writing coaches, college English composition instructors and students. You can use this as your own guide if you have to write an essay or two for a class, or you can use it as part of your instruction if you teach writing.

The premise is that two educators, Rebecca Stern and Brad Wolfe, want to show the world that the dreaded essay assignment does not actually have to be "dreaded."

In their "Special Note to Teachers," they write: "We know that teachers spend hours searching for age-appropriate, well-written essays to use in the classroom. ... And so, we put together this collection to fill that void and to make it easier for you."

They continue, stating that another purpose of the book is to show students that essays can be just as fun to read as a novel or short story and that many "real authors write real essays."

They gave each published author, willing to take a stab at the assignment, a specific type of essay and writing prompt. The essays hit all types covered in high school and college classes (even some middle school and elementary classrooms): persuasive, informative, literary, personal and illustrated.

Prompts range from writing a persuasive essay about a time it was OK to break the rules to a personal essay on when you helped make the world a better place.

The book features 38 samples, including an informative essay on writing the directions on how to do an activity, a graphic/illustrated essay on a crazy adventure and a literary essay on analyzing a character from a fairy tale. (I remember having to do this in my college comp class.)

Alan Gratz, author of "Samurai Shortstop" and "The Brooklyn Nine," writes a humorous essay titled, "It's On Like Donkey Kong," in which his assignment is a character analysis and persuasive essay, putting himself in the shoes of a villain, and writing from that perspective.

The first line of the essay reads, "Super. That's what they call him now. Super Mario." You can see where this is going: Donkey Kong is not happy about how famous Mario has become.

One of the best personal essays in the book is by Elizabeth Winthrop, who is the author of more than 60 books for children and adults. Her assignment is to write a personal essay "about a before and after. What was life like before? What was life like after?"

She titles her piece "My Life Before Television" and writes about all the crazy and troublesome things she and her brothers did before her dad bought a television. Then she writes about all the problems they were no longer causing after they sat and watched TV all the time.

She ends the essay with: "I wonder now how many other escapades my brothers and I might have pulled off had my father never brought that TV home."

Even if you are not a teacher, parent or student and you like well-written, clever essays, you will enjoy "Breakfast On Mars." The title is pretty eye-catching itself, and yes, there's a persuasive essay about this very topic included in the book!

Margo L. Dill is the author of "Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg," a middle grade historical fiction novel. She often reviews books as a columnist for "WOW! Women On Writing" e-zine and her blog, "Margo Dill's Read These Books and Use Them" ( She lives in St. Louis with her family.

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