Monday, January 7, 2013

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

Image from
Random House Children’s Books, 2003.
When citizens of the city of Ember turn 12, they eagerly await Assignment Day. Like their classmates, Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow can’t wait to find out what job they will pick out of the Mayor’s assignment bag. Swift and agile Lina hopes with all her might to be a messenger, while serious Doon wants to be an electrician’s helper so he can learn more about the mysterious generator that powers the city. No one, not even the Mayor, knows how the underground generator works, but somehow it powers all the lights of Ember. Without electricity the city would come to a standstill because it’s not just dark in Ember at night – it’s dark all the time with no sun, moon, or stars. Life in Ember is routine, but what happens when Lina and Doon realize that there’s something sinister about the supply shortages and power outages? Will Lina and Doon figure out a way to save their beloved city? And even if they do, will anyone believe them?

This book, named an American Library Notable Children’s Book, is a thrilling page-turner. Part science fiction and part fantasy, the story follows the revelations of two protagonists as they learn Ember is not the idyllic city they once believed. Set in a dystopian society this is a great recommendation for kids who want to read The Hunger Games, but aren’t quite ready for the violence/mature content of Collins’ series. The text is written in third person and DuPrau sets a fast pace by alternating between Doon and Lina’s perspectives. The story is full of narrow escapes, surprising twists, and cliff hangers. This is the first book in the Book of Ember series and the ending will have readers clamoring to get their hands on the sequel.

Intrigued? Read the first chapter of the book on the Scholastic website. Also, check out the recently published graphic novel version of the story.

In 2008 the book was made in a movie. I haven’t seen it, so I can’t say if it’s worth watching or not, but it could be interesting to read the book as a family, watch the movie, and then compare the two.

*Many times in the text DuPrau describes the precise route Lina or Doon take as they navigate the City of Ember. Have kids plot the route on the map that prefaces the story.

*The citizens of Ember know that the power for the lights comes from the generator, but they don’t know anything about electricity or fire. Doon tries to make his own “mobile” light in the book, but doesn’t succeed. Follow up by making your own mobile light source: a flashlight. Try a recycled soda can flashlight or a square flashlight. (SPOILER: Yes, I know they eventually find candles not flashlights in the book, but this is a great project to learn about batteries and electricity).

*Hold your own Assignment Day, as Corrina Allen outlines in her blog, Diary of a 6th Grade Teacher.

*Check out the teacher’s guide by Daphne Greene. Published by the School Violence Prevention Demonstration Program, the guide looks at the social, economic, and political issues in the book.

*Read more about the inspiration and creation of the book on the Random House website.

            The House of Power by Patrick Carmen
            Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
            The Giver by Lois Lowry

*Find out what happens to Lina, Doon, and the citizens of Ember as the Book of Ember series continues:
            The People of the Sparks
            The Prophet of Yonwood
            The Diamond of Darkhold

Age 10+ / Grade 5+


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