Nap Time With a Kindergartner Who Doesn’t Know English

Cocooned in my Minnie Mouse blanket, I squint through dimness, scrutinizing Ms. Johnson’s nose wart.

Surprise strikes when Blonde Girl turns over. Smiles at me. Whispering English gibberish. She giddily uncaps a pink ChapStick, twisting it under my nose.

“Birthday cake!” I think

She chomps off half the ChapStick. Chewing, Blonde Girl offers me to do the same. I panic, realizing: 1. The tube’s dripping saliva. 2. I’m also friendless. Best solution? I’ll swipe on her ChapStick. Just a wee bit.

— Grace Huang, 16, West High School, Madison, Wis.

First Snow of the Year

It’s January in Brooklyn and I’m walking down the street with earbuds in, fidgeting with a clump of snow between my gloves. A man directs some comment at me and I tense instinctively. “Sorry?” I respond, thinking of everything old men say to teenage girls on sidewalks. He points to my hands and I look down, surprised: a perfect snowball. “So round!” he murmurs. “Good job!” I smile, equal parts relieved and joyful, and keep walking. In a few hours this will all be grimy slush, but for now it’s flurrying softly — the city feels quiet, beautiful, kind.

— Cora Anderson, 16, Millennium Brooklyn High School, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Messi in the Making

On the soccer field, things were getting heated, literally, as it was a summer day around 98 degrees. My first-grade teammates were ready to take on the competition; I was too busy picking flowers. “Run, Kirian! Get the ball!” my coach shouted.

The flowers fell as the ball touched my foot. I got it! I could see my destiny before my eyes — with the goalie distracted, my talent would finally shine through! I thought to myself, she shoots, she scores, my moment, and the crowd goes … mild? Confused, I looked to see my coach’s disappointed face.

Oh, wrong goal.

— Kirian Veach, 16, Westchester Country Day School, High Point, N.C.

The participation trophy Kirian received after the game. It “was meant to encourage,” she said, “but I remember feeling like it added salt to the wound.”Kirian Veach


At age five, my biggest fear was five vowels and 21 consonants. Letters blurred together; words distorted into static. At home, I could sink into the comforts of four tones and retroflex consonants, where my last name could finally be pronounced correctly. Phonics lessons forced foreign z’s and v’s into my mouth, their taste replacing the familiarity of my mother tongue. At age six, those letters began to sharpen when I discovered the world of literature. The bane of my existence turned into my passion. At age seven, five vowels and 21 consonants — English — became my favorite subject.

— Jerry Xiong, 16, Prince of Wales Secondary School, Vancouver, British Columbia

Careful What You Wish For

Running barefoot through uncut countryside, evening dew soaking my dress. Pointing my toes in an attempt to be taller, to reach the creature. I swiftly jump and cup my hands. Feeling the flutter of wings, I know I’ve caught it! I tear firefly head from body, squeezing the sticky ooze onto my ears. Providing the illusion of glowing jewels. “Seeeeee, can I get my ears pierced now?” My grandmother chuckles, “You know, Pumpkin, someday you’ll no longer wish to grow up.”

For my first piercing I chose opal studs from the dusty jewelry box I inherited from her.

— Kassie Baggett, 16, Harborside Academy, Kenosha, Wis.

Hallway Crush

I hear footsteps down the hallway. I don’t look up, but I know exactly who is coming. “Act natural,” I think to myself. I lean against the brick wall and pretend to be really busy looking at my weather app. 77 today, 79 tomorrow … I glance up to see the person that I’ve wanted to talk to the whole day. My heart flutters. I try to think of something good to say. He was trying to do the same. Yet the best thing we could think of was “Bye.” Ugh. I’ll try again tomorrow.

— Elodie Ruff, 15, Kansas City Christian School, Prairie Village, Kan.

Elodie’s school hallwayCredit...Elodie Ruff

7 a.m., Feb. 24, 2022, Lviv, Ukraine. I awoke to my parents whispering. A panicked look covered my mom’s face.

“What happened?” I sensed tension — no answer.

Zelenski’s announcement, “We are introducing martial law on all the territories of our state” boomed loudly. My hands spontaneously shook. A lump formed in my throat. I couldn’t speak. Piercing sirens sounded. My parents packed some essentials. We drove to my grandmother’s house at the border, allowing us to escape. Unbidden tears flowed down my cheeks. We looked so happy in the photos on the walls of our home we left behind.

— Vira Hadzhiieva, 15, Wahlert Catholic High School, Dubuque, Iowa

My cape billows behind me as I survey the bedroom. Staring harder, the room morphs until I stand in Gotham, enveloped by darkness. This city needs a hero. My mask goes on; the Batman has risen.

Tonight is dangerous. The Batman warily creeps into enemy territory. The scuffle of feet. He turns; a shadowy figure lunges. In a flash, a Batarang arcs through the air; one step, two steps, and the stuffed animal is cut down, the Joker vanquished. Light wo —

“Get a life, man, you’re about to start high school!”

Reluctantly, my mask goes off. The Batman must retire forever.

— Charles Huang, 14, North Hollywood High School, Los Angeles

I used to always sit near the front of the classroom. Straight-backed, eyes bright, eager to learn.

Inevitably, September would arrive. Eleven days in, the lessons were redirected for the day — articles, documentary clips, teacher anecdotes.

I felt my classmates’ glares from behind, in front of, next to me. A girl who wasn’t even alive at the time of the tragedy — but the girl with darker skin, whose father spoke with an accent and whose mother wore a hijab.

I moved to the back of the classroom. Shoulders hunched, gaze lowered.

Never forget, they tell me now.

How could I?

— Ruhaab Shuja, 15, Indian Hills High School, Oakland, N.J.

Young Ruhaab, when she was eager to learn.Credit...Anita Sultan

Entangled Braces

In a quiet school corner, I had my very first kiss. Nervous and excited, my heart raced. Unexpectedly, our braces became entangled. What a silly mishap. Awkward laughter erupted initially. We attempted to twist in opposite directions for a quick fix. But as time passed, the ache in my teeth intensified, and saliva started to leak uncontrollably. Our efforts were futile, and panic crept over us like a dark shadow. Hastily, we made our way to the infirmary, our movements resembling startled crabs. The school nurse gently untangled us, her shoulders shaking, trying to suppress her laughter.

— Ruiqing Zhao, 17, The High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China, Beijing


When I was 10, my father was already asking me about colleges and careers — already digging into my skin to uncover what shade of the American dream I would become.

At 10, he was sweltering in heavy Vietnamese heat, each vision of the future a repetition of the past.

Now I’m 14, around the same age my father would have discovered life, liberty and happiness, breaking my back behind a desk trying to follow and feeling indescribably strange to still be lost at sea when my father has already crossed thousands of miles of it to get me here.

— Kassidy Khuu, 14, Hunter College High School, New York, N.Y.

multiplication and pision

When my mom met Steve, I was worried that the love she had for me would pide. Especially with the addition of his son, I thought my home would be cramped and loud. At first, I was correct. My room had to be shared. My house became louder. These changes made me resent my stepbrother, Steve and, at some points, my mother. That was until I went to Steve’s office, and next to the framed pictures of my stepbrother was a framed picture of me. Seeing how he accepted me made me understand: Love doesn’t pide. It multiplies.

— Oliver Watson, 14, Centerville High School, Centerville, Ohio

Oliver, as a young child (left) and as a teenager, with his stepfatherCredit...Tzeitel Durian

Emil Garro



Snuggling in bed, Mama reads me a Spider-Man book. I’m eight. Peter Parker’s transition from a nobody to web-slinging defender of humanity enraptures me. After a radioactive spider bites him, he emerges from a dark alley transformed, wielding astounding powers, chemical venom coursing through his veins. Superhero.


I watch Mama pack her suitcase. She’ll be radioactive, she says. We can’t visit, Papa says. Cancer floats like a word bubble above our heads. Mama promises she’ll come back cured. A tight hug. She’s gone.


I read Spider-Man alone. I thought Mama would return a superhero. But she hasn’t.

— Isa H., California


Twelve years ago I accidentally locked myself inside my room. My parents tried to direct me on how to turn the lock “just a little to the right,” but my 3-year-old fingers couldn’t manage it. While their panic started to rise, I was playing with my toys, not a care in the world. Twelve years later, my parents still tell this story at family gatherings. I wonder if hearing it so many times has subconsciously shaped my view of the world today: Careless, and I get trapped. Care less, and I’m free.

— Sanya Vaidya, 15, Montville Township High School, Montville, N.J.

My Two Primal Urges

Yin and yang, the American me battles the Chinese me. Expecting an emotional tale with twists? No. Three words. Not. Enough. Space.

At Market Basket, they fight for dominance. Delicious, nutritious rice-cakes or spicy, finger-licking Doritos? Chinese me sprints for the rice-cakes; American me swoons for Doritos. In my internal boxing ring, they all-out brawl, pull hair and hurl insults, making my head press the “beep beep” button continuously. After rounds of brain-frying, my hands vote for the winner. I reach out and … toss both the rice-cakes and the Doritos into my shopping cart and run for the register.

— Dora (Yuan) Mou, 15, Boston University Academy, Boston

Illustration by Dora (Yuan) Mou