• Happy birthday Mem Fox (Time for Bed) and Gary Hogg (Scrambled Eggs and Spider Legs).
  • It’s the birth date of Howard Pyle (1853–1911), Otto of the Silver Hand, Errol Le Cain (1941–1989), The Twelve Dancing Princesses.
  • In 1770, a riot known as the Boston Massacre, one of the key events that turned British colonists against King George III, took place in what would become the capital of Massachusetts. Read For Liberty: The Story of the Boston Massacre by Timothy Decker.
  • Winston Churchill uses the phrase “Iron Curtain” in a speech on this day in 1946. Read The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter SĂ­s.

March has been designated Write a Letter of Appreciation Month. I always say that the Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac is my daily love letter to an author. So today I want to write an almanac letter of appreciation to Jeanne DuPrau for her magnificent novel, The City of Ember.

At the beginning of The City of Ember readers meet two characters who are being given jobs, or assignments, for their adult lives. Swift-footed Lina longs to become a Messenger and deliver communications, which are remembered and not written down. But by lottery she draws Pipeworker instead. Fortunately, Doon, who wants to work underground in the damp and smelly sewers, asks to trade with her. He has drawn Messenger for his lot.

Their city faces a grave crisis. Ember appears to be running out of provisions, stored in huge warehouses, and running out of electricity, as the lights that make life possible often flicker and go out. As Lina slowly learns what is happening in the city, Doon delves further and further into the underground caves. Together the two of them begin to piece together the history of the place that has always been their home.

Their activities increasingly bring them into conflict with the authorities in the city; they begin to uncover corruption in this seemingly ideal utopia, where all provisions are meant to be shared. In an extraordinarily exciting escape scene, the two leave, much like Adam and Eve, the only garden they have ever known to seek the world outside.

In the past ten years, dark, dystopian novels have become quite common for both children and teenagers. Published in 2003, with several sequels, The City of Ember remains one of the best of these works for fifth through seventh graders. The parallels with problems of today—scarcity of key resources, political corruption, ignorance of communities—naturally leads to discussions, making this a great choice for book groups or classroom reading. But most important, from beginning to end The City of Ember grabs readers and pulls them along from one compelling scene to another.

If you have missed this underground community, pick up The City of Ember. It not only makes me grateful to live above ground, it also makes me thankful for writers like Jeanne DuPrau, who know how to explore important issues in a way that will keep young readers turning the pages.

Here’s a passage from The City of Ember:

She ran fast and easily through the streets of Ember. Every corner, every alley, every building was familiar to her. She always knew where she was, though most streets looked more or less the same. All of them were lined with old, two-story stone buildings, the wood of their window frames and doors long unpainted. On the street level were shops; above the shops were the apartments where people lived. Every building, at the place where the wall met the roof, was equipped with a row of floodlights—big cone-shaped lamps that cast a strong yellow glare.


Originally posted March 5, 2012. Updated for .

Tags: Adventure, Dystopia
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The City of Ember
One year ago: Stone Fox


  1. Linda Baie says:

    I still haven’t read these & should. Thank you for the good review! I forgot to say Happy Birthday last time, so good for you for the year of books! It’s been a year for me too, and a very fun one.

  2. G. Perry says:

    Well, I have to admit that I came across the DVD film of this at the library last year, and watched that. I never thought about the book behind film until now. I’ll locate a copy.

  3. Anita says:

    Gordon: The books are definitely better than the movie!

  4. Kerry says:

    I love City of Ember and People of Sparks! Thank you for highlighting this wonderful science fiction mystery.

  5. My son’s teacher read this to his second grade class and he loved it! Such a great introduction to a new genre for him. He was not such a fan of the movie, particularly the part with the huge mole!

  6. Margaret Mennone says:

    I’m normally not a big fan of sci fi or dystopian books, but I really enjoyed this one. It was very well written and kept me interested the whole way. It was one of those books that I had seen on the shelf years ago and I was intrigued by the cover (the one with the light bulb), but I never picked it up until last year. I’ve been trying to read lots of books like that lately and this one did not disappoint. Unfortunately, I haven’t made time for the sequels yet, so I’m still curious to know what comes after for these characters!

  7. Momo says:

    This is such a good series. The children and scenes in the movie were good but the mayor was awful. I read City of Ember then People of Sparks and then the prequel Prophet of Yonwood which was disappointing and then Diamond of Darkhold which was terrific. I am a huge fan of books like this. Our copies here in Australia have very different covers.

  8. G. Perry says:

    I finally got round to this one and I’m closing on the finish now.

    It’s a splendid book. The film can’t touch the book. (No surprise there..)

    Great read!

  9. Julie says:

    I just bought this for my fourth grader as an age appropriate substitute for the Hunger Games, which I am reading but feel she isn’t ready for! She doesn’t necessarily agree, but that’s why I am the mom! We are looking forward to starting it together!

  10. What’s not to love about City of Ember? Everything you’ve written is right on Anita. The story has strong male and female characters, and the fast pace will surely appeal to readers looking for adventure and a bit of mystery! I have not read the subsequent books, but Ember promises a series-worth of adventures to come.

  11. Jennifer says:

    My oldest son LOVES these books! He was so excited when he found out it was a series. He thought it was just one book.

  12. Vickie says:

    I chose this for my after school book club (Y5/6). It was a huge hit and although we had the whole series in the library the kids never thought to read it before. This book doesn’t seem to be on their reading radars which is such a shame as it is a brilliant book.

  13. It’s a terrific book and is indeed great for discussion. I did a boys’ bookclub based on these four books about ten years ago and we had a great time and good discussions.

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