The City of Ember
by Jeanne DuPrau
I first read The City of Ember when it came out in 2003, and it is a story that has stuck with me over the years. Most recently, I read the book as a read aloud to my third grade students. I can say that this book is absolutely kid-approved!
With an engaging storyline and well-developed characters, The City of Ember is a great example of dystopian middle grade literature. Students are enraptured by the story, which follows two children named Lina and Doon who live in an underground city with failing infrastructure. The problem is, nobody knows that the city is underground. Mysterious instructions from the city’s builders were supposed to be passed down by the mayors until the right time, but (as my Teaser Tuesday showed a few weeks ago) a corrupt mayor ruined the plan. Now, hundreds of people are living in an underground city with no knowledge of the outside world.
I absolutely love the dramatic irony that is present in this text. My students knew that Ember was underground, but the main characters do not. My students were literally shouting out, wishing they could tell Lina and Doon what they were missing! This is a fascinating effect to use in children’s writing, and DuPrau includes it masterfully.
Another highlight of this book is the flaws in the main characters. Both Lina and Doon have flaws that interfere with their journey. Imperfect protagonists are instrumental in teaching children that all people have their flaws, but we can all work to overcome our weaknesses and turn them into strengths. Lina and Doon are relatable characters. Children can feel a strong connection to the two, and to their progress during their journey.
The City of Ember is an engaging text for read aloud to 3rd grade or up, or independent reading for 4th to 6th grade. Even for adults, the riveting storytelling makes Ember a great read.
“The trouble with anger is, it gets hold of you. And then you aren’t the master of yourself anymore. Anger is.”
“People find a way through just about anything.”
DuPrau’s use of English language conventions along with creative writing make The City of Ember a great fit for language study. Here are a few suggestions for use in the classroom!
- DuPrau uses adverbs regularly throughout the text. During our read aloud, students would raise their hand whenever they heard a new adverb, and we would add it to a list. Adverbs can occasionally be tricky to find in children’s literature, but DuPrau includes them successfully and models them for children.
- Similes made by Doon and Lina drive much of their conversations on values and feelings. Students can come up with their own similes to describe different parts of Ember, the comparisons between dark and light, and more.
Title: The City of Ember
Author: Jeanne DuPrau
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: 2003
Price: US $7.99
Source: Classroom Library