Posted by: Gregg | July 17, 2006

The City of Ember – Jeanne DuPrau

One of the sections of the library I’ve really tried to familiarize myself since I’ve worked in a library is the children’s section. Being 33 years old, I haven’t been exposed to kiddie lit since I was a young ‘un myself. If a bright-eyed eleven-year-old ever comes up to me looking for a recommendation for something to read, I might give them a Stephen King book to read since that’s what I was reading when I was eleven. (This probably explains a lot about me.) So I’ve been dipping my toe into the Js and the YAs of late, wanting to get a feel for what’s out there.

Once that I was really struck by is The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, a fictional tale with some sci-fi elements that really worked well for me. Ember is a city in perpetual darkness – there is no sun, no moon, or no stars. Twelve hours a day light is provided by electric lamps dotted throughout the city. Citizens are assigned jobs and get food and supplies from the city’s massive storerooms full of items left to them by the Builders. However things are decaying in Ember – supplies are running out and the electricity fails more often than not. No one is looking for solutions for the city’s problems, because that’s the way things always were and always will be. Two children who wonder what is beyond the darkness are at the heart of the story, and they discover a secret that might lead to Ember’s salvation.

The story has a modern fairy-tale quality to it that’s not patronising, which makes it interesting to adults as well as kids. The children have no special abilities or magical beings that help them – they use their intelligence and their curiosity and their ability to see a broader picture to work their way toward a solution, and as they get closer, the reader is pulled into the story right alongside them. It’s great stuff, meant for 9-12 year olds but adults can enjoy it guilt-free. The book wraps up with a satisfying ending that leads right into the sequel (which I haven’t read yet, and will probably review here once I do.) Well worth checking out.



  1. I very much enjoyed it, and am in the hold queue for the sequel. I’ve been in the mood for kid-lit because I’m finding a lot of mainstream fiction to overwritten and predictable. I like light and enjoyable, and especially things that are full of imagination! I finally broke down and read Artemis Fowl, despite some of the bad reviews it’s gotten and I didn’t think it was that bad. Sure, it’s no Harry Potter, but it has its good points.

    And I will be in desperate need of something fun after I finish the book I’m listening to now, especially if it doesn’t lighten up like it promises to. It’s just so very, very sad! Heartbreaking, really.

    Have you read Bunnicula? I’ve just re-read the series and enjoyed it. Sure, it’s geared towards MUCH younger kids, but it’s still fun, and just as good as I remembered it from childhood!

  2. check out the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy if you haven’t already.

  3. J: oddly enough, I’m about midway through “Golden Compass” as we speak. Or write. You know what I mean. I’ve heard so much great stuff about the series I was a bit tentative on picking it up – I didn’t want to be let down from such high expectations. I’m cautiously enjoying it thus far.

    Smeddley: I _have_ read some of the Bunnicula stuff and thought it was a lot of fun. Incidentally, the same youth librarian who tipped me to “City of Ember” also had good things to say about “Gregor the Overlander”, so that might be another option for you…

  4. I really enjoyed this book. It seemed as though this could actually happen. I have also read the other two books in the series and they are just as good as the first. Jeanne DuPrau writes some good books.

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