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Written by Jeanne DuPrauAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Jeanne DuPrau


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On Sale: May 13, 2003
Pages: 288 | ISBN: 978-0-375-89080-2
Published by : Random House Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books

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The city of Ember was built as a last refuge for the human race. Two hundred years later, the great lamps that light the city are beginning to flicker. When Lina finds part of an ancient message, she’s sure it holds a secret that will save the city. She and her friend Doon must decipher the message before the lights go out on Ember forever! This stunning debut novel offers refreshingly clear writing and fascinating, original characters.


The Instructions
When the city of Ember was just built and not yet inhabited, the Chief Builder and the Assistant Builder, both of them weary, sat down to speak of the future.

“They must not leave the city for at least two hundred years,” said the Chief Builder. “Or perhaps two hundred and twenty.”

“Is that long enough?” asked his Assistant.

“It should be. We can’t know for sure.”

“And when the time comes,” said the Assistant, “how will they know what to do?”

“We’ll provide them with instructions, of course,” the Chief Builder replied.

“But who will keep the instructions? Who can we trust to keep them safe and secret all that time?”

“The mayor of the city will keep the instructions,” said the Chief Builder. “We’ll put them in a box with a timed lock, set to open on the proper date.”

“And will we tell the mayor what’ s in the box?” the Assistant asked.

“No, just that it’s information they won’t need and must not see until the box opens of its own accord.”

“So the first mayor will pass the box to the next mayor, and that one to the next, and so on down through the years, all of them keeping it secret, all that time?”

“What else can we do?” asked the Chief Builder. “Nothing about this endeavor is certain. There may be no one left in the city by then or no safe place for them to come back to.”

So the first mayor of Ember was given the box, told to guard it carefully, and solemnly sworn to secrecy. When she grew old, and her time as mayor was up, she explained about the box to her successor, who also kept the secret carefully, as did the next mayor. Things went as planned for many years. But the seventh mayor of Ember was less honorable than the ones who’d come before him, and more desperate. He was ill–he had the coughing sickness that was common in the city then–and he thought the box might hold a secret that would save his life. He took it from its hiding place in the basement of the Gathering Hall and brought it home with him, where he attacked it with a hammer.

But his strength was failing by then. All he managed to do was dent the lid a little. And before he could return the box to its official hiding place or tell his successor about it, he died. The box ended up at the back of a closet, shoved behind some old bags and bundles. There it sat, unnoticed, year after year, until its time arrived, and the lock quietly clicked open.

Chapter 1
Assignment Day
In the city of Ember, the sky was always dark. The only light came from great floodlamps mounted on the buildings and at the tops of poles in the middle of the larger squares. When the lights were on, they cast a yellowish glow over the streets; people walking by threw long shadows that shortened and then stretched out again. When the lights were off, as they were between nine at night and six in the morning, the city was so dark that people might as well have been wearing blindfolds.

Sometimes darkness fell in the middle of the day. The city of Ember was old, and everything in it, including the power lines, was in need of repair. So now and then the lights would flicker and go out. These were terrible moments for the people of Ember. As they came to a halt in the middle of the street or stood stock still in their houses, afraid to move in the utter blackness, they were reminded of something they preferred not to think about: that some day the lights of the city might go out and never come back on.

But most of the time life proceeded as it always had. Grown people did their work, and younger people, until they reached the age of twelve, went to school. On the last day of their final year, which was called Assignment Day, they were given jobs to do.

The graduating students occupied Room 8 of the Ember School. On Assignment Day of the year 241, this classroom, usually noisy first thing in the morning, was completely silent. All twenty-four students sat upright and still in the desks they had grown too big for. They were waiting.

The desks were arranged in four rows of six, one behind the other. In the last row sat a slender girl named Lina Mayfleet. She was winding a strand of her long, dark hair around her finger, winding and unwinding it again and again. Sometimes she plucked at a loose thread on her ragged cape or bent over to pull on her socks, which were loose and tended to slide down around her ankles. One of her feet tapped the floor softly.

In the second row was a boy named Doon Harrow. He sat with his shoulders hunched, his eyes squeezed shut in concentration, and his hands clasped tightly together. His hair looked rumpled, as if he hadn’t combed it for a while. He had dark, thick eyebrows, which made him look serious at the best of times, and when he was anxious or angry came together to form a straight line across his forehead. His brown corduroy jacket was so old that its ridges had flattened out.

Both the girl and the boy were making urgent wishes. Doon’s wish was very specific. He repeated it over and over again, his lips moving slightly, as if he could make it come true by saying it a thousand times. Lina was making her wish in pictures rather than in words. In her mind’s eye, she saw herself running through the streets of the city in a red jacket. She made this picture as bright and real as she could.
Jeanne DuPrau

About Jeanne DuPrau

Jeanne DuPrau - The City of Ember

Photo © RHCB

"What could be more interesting than thinking of mysterious happenings, finding the answers to intriguing questions, and making up new worlds?"--Jeanne DuPrau

Jeanne DuPrau has been a teacher, an editor, and a technical writer. The People of Sparks is her second novel and the sequel to the highly acclaimed The City of Ember. Ms. DuPrau lives in Menlo Park, California, where she keeps a big garden and a small dog.


“When did you decide to be a writer?” people often ask me. Well, it was like this:

At about age 6, I wrote my first book, or at least the first book of mine that survives to the present day. It’s called “Frosty the Snowman.” It’s five pages long, illustrated with red and green crayon, and bound with loops of yarn.

My next extant work dates, I think, from the seventh grade. It’s a collection of stories handwritten on lined newsprint. One is about a merry-go-round that mysteriously flies off into the air. Another is about a girl who mysteriously disappears while ice skating. A third is about a seashell that mysteriously opens a door to an underwater world. It’s not hard to deduce that mysterious happenings were what I loved best at the time–a wardrobe door leading to Narnia, a rabbit hole leading to Wonderland, a nanny who flew away when the wind changed.

A year or two later, I started reading Dickens. I loved the world of Dickens’s novels, full of colorful characters and wildly complicated plots. I decided to write Dickensian stories myself. To prepare for this, I put together notebooks with headings on each page for character names, settings, plot ideas, and beginning sentences. I wrote pages and pages of great names (Ophelia Gordonswaithe, Hester Hollyhock), lists of settings (an insane asylum, a deserted railway station), and beginning sentences (“A sharp laugh broke the heavy silence”). I didn’t actually write very many stories, though. I think I wrote three or four, but only one of them went all the way to the end. The rest petered out after a couple of pages–or a couple of paragraphs.

But I kept at it. All through school, I wrote and wrote. Some of this writing my teachers assigned–book reports, college essays, my senior thesis. Some I assigned myself–stories, poems, journals, letters. After I graduated from college (an English major, of course), I did several different kinds of work, but they all involved writing and reading in one way or another. I taught high school English (and started a creative writing club for my students). I worked as an editor in educational publishing companies (and wrote stories for reading textbooks). I worked for a computer company (and wrote about how to use computers).

At the same time, after work, on weekends, whenever I could fit it in, I was doing my own writing. I wrote about people I knew, experiences I’d had, books I’d read, ideas that had occurred to me. I started sending these pieces of writing out into the world, and quite often they were published. I wrote a book, and then another book. The more I wrote, the more things I thought of to write about.

So the answer to the question, “When did you decide to be a writer?” is: Never. I never decided anything–I just wrote and kept on writing, because writing was what I liked to do. What could be more interesting than thinking of mysterious happenings, finding the answers to intriguing questions, and making up new worlds? Writers have a great job. I’m glad to be one.
Praise | Awards


USA Today
"DuPrau’s first foray into fiction creates a realistic post-apocalyptic world. Reminiscent of Robert O'Brien's Z for Zachariah, DuPrau’s book leaves Doon and Lina on the verge of the undiscovered country and readers wanting more."

Starred Review, Publishers Weekly

"Thanks to full-blooded characters every bit as compelling as the plot, Lina and Doon’s search parallels the universal adolescent quest for answers. An electric debut!"

Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews
"Well-paced, this contains a satisfying mystery, a breathtaking escape over rooftops in darkness, a harrowing journey into the unknown, and cryptic messages for readers to decipher. The likeable protagonists are not only courageous but also believably flawed by human pride. The cliffhanger ending will leave readers clamoring for the next installment."

Starred Review, Voice of Youth Advocates
"While Ember is colorless and dark, the book itself is rich with description. DuPrau uses the puzzle, suspenseful action, and lots of evil characters to entice readers into the story. They will find the teen characters believable and gutsy. Part mystery, part adventure story."

The Horn Book Magazine
"The device of a hidden letter, complete with missing words, is used with such disarming forthrightness that readers will be eagerly deciphering it right alongside Doon and Lina."

An ALA Notable Children’s Book

A Kirkus Reviews Editors’ Choice

A New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing Selection

From the Hardcover edition.


WINNER 2004 ALA Notable Children's Book
WINNER 2004 Florida Sunshine State Book Award
WINNER 2004 Texas Lone Star Reading List
NOMINEE 2005 West Virginia Children's Book Master List
WINNER 2005 Arkansas Charlie May Simon Award
NOMINEE 2005 Colorado Blue Spruce Young Adult Book Award
NOMINEE 2006 Illinois Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Award
NOMINEE 2006 Iowa Teen Book Award
WINNER 2006 Kansas William White Award
WINNER 2006 Kentucky Bluegrass Master List
WINNER California Young Reader Medal
WINNER New Jersey Garden State Children's Book Award
WINNER New Hampshire Great Stone Face Children's Book Award
WINNER Connecticut Nutmeg Children's Book Award
WINNER 2006 ALA Notable Children's Book
NOMINEE 2006 Florida Sunshine State Book Award
WINNER 2006 Texas Lone Star Reading List
WINNER 2006 Connecticut Nutmeg Children's Book Master List
WINNER 2006 New Hampshire Great Stone Face Children's Book Award
WINNER 2006 New Jersey Garden State Children's Book Award
WINNER 2006 California Young Reader Medal
WINNER 2005 Colorado Children's Book Master List
WINNER 2006 Illinois Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Master List
WINNER 2005 Iowa Teen Book Award
WINNER 2003 Texas Lone Star Reading List
About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Teachers Guide

About the Guide

The City of Ember is the only light in the dark world. Beyond Ember, the darkness goes on forever in all directions. When the children of the city of Ember finish school, they begin work at 12 years of age. . . .

Lina Mayfleet desperately wants to be a messenger. Messengers spend their days outside, running from one corner of the city to the other. Instead, she draws the dreaded job of Pipeworks laborer, which means she’ll be stuck in tunnels deep underground.

Doon Harrow draws messenger—and asks to trade with Lina! Doon wants to be underground. That’s where the generator is, and Doon has ideas about how to fix it. For as long as anyone can remember, the great lights of Ember have kept the endless darkness that surrounds the city at bay. But now the lights are starting to flicker.

When Lina finds fragments of an ancient parchment, she and Doon put the pieces together to discover a message that seems to be directions out of the city.

About the Author

Jeanne DuPrau has been a teacher, an editor, and a technical writer. The City of Ember is her first novel. She is currently working on the sequel at her home in Menlo Park, California, where she keeps a big garden and a small dog.

From the Hardcover edition.

Discussion Guides

1. Doon and Lina like very different things. Doon wants to work in the Pipeworks; Lina yearns to be a messenger. Doon likes to study how things work. Lina likes to run and explore. But their friendship grows because they are ultimately searching for the same thing. How do they complement one another and help one another develop through the novel?

2. Earth today has many environmental and social issues. What sort of problems could have led to the building of the City of Ember?

3. Clary tells Lina, “Everyone has some darkness inside.” (p. 168) Light and color both play very key roles in the novel. In what ways, other than the failing street lamps, are color and light important?

4. The possibility of never-ending darkness changes many of Lina’s friends and many of the townspeople. She discovers that her friend Lizzie has begun to accept things from Looper, who is stealing things from the storerooms. Why does Lina turn down the gifts that Lizzie offers her? Do you think that she was right to do so?

5. The city of Ember was built when people were worried that the human race might not survive. Do you think this was a good plan?

6. The mayor is the most corrupt character in the novel. He squelches the thirst for knowledge and limits freedom, yet the majority of the townspeople just accept his behavior. Why do you think they act this way? What other actions might they have taken?

7. People react in various ways when they feel threatened. How do the people of Ember react to danger? Have you seen people reacting to danger in these ways? How are Poppy’s actions important to the plot?

8. At the end of the novel, Lina, Doon, and Poppy have discovered a sunlit earth. What do you think will become of them in the sequel? Do you think that there are other people on the surface?

Teacher's Guide


The City of Ember

In the underground city of Ember, young Lina and Doon struggle with clues in order to reveal both the history of their city and a way to save the population before their source of light dwindles away to nothing.

Jeanne DuPrau presents a colorless society with a bleak future in The City of Ember. The citizens of Ember live underground where they face daily blackouts, food shortages, and corrupt politicians. With the source of light waning, two young citizens take it upon themselves to unlock the secret to Ember’s mysterious past. Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow navigate this post-apocalyptic world in an attempt to decode a cryptic message that may save them all.

The People of Sparks

Followed by fellow Emberites, Lina and Doon emerge from the underground city and are taken in by the first town they encounter–but the additional population puts a strain on the town’s resources, inciting conflict.

Having escaped from the underground world of Ember, Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow emerge into the post-disaster village of Sparks. The world of Sparks stands in stark contrast to life in Ember. Sparks glitters with its brilliant light, radiant color, and seemingly abundant resources. As the strain of adding new members to its community begins to take its toll, the people of Sparks resort to survival instincts in an effort to conserve resources. Conflicts emerge as leaders bicker and friendships begin to wane. It takes the courage and leadership of the novel’s young characters to unify the village as they attempt to create a harmonious world.


About the Author

What could be more interesting than thinking of mysterious happenings, finding the answers to intriguing questions, and making up new worlds?Jeanne DuPrau

Jeanne DuPrau writes for several hours each day and finds inspiration in a quote from Thomas Mann that says, “A writer is someone for whom writing is harder than it is for other people.” This quote guides. DuPrau’s writing, which she often finds to be a challenging task. DuPrau knew she wanted to be a writer at a young age and has tried related careers in teaching, technical writing, and editing. She has written three novels, six books of nonfiction, and with essays and stories. She lives in California where she loves to garden.

Check out the Author Spotlight http://www.randomhouse.com/teachers/authors/results.pperl?authorid=7639
on Jeannie DuPrau
or visit the author’s official site!


Pre-Reading Activities

The City of Ember Pre-Reading Activity:
Mock Assignment Day–Explain that today is “Assignment Day” and students will get a job placement that will determine their future within the community. Distribute mock job assignments to students and give a talk about service to one’s community. Ask students how they feel about being assigned to a profession. Ask them to speculate on what kind of world they are going to read about, where people are assigned jobs to work as messengers, laborers, electrician’s helpers, and supply clerks.

The People of Sparks
Pre-Reading Activity
What Is Community?–Ask students to write an essay about community using the following writing prompt: What is the role of a community? Is the community responsible for taking care of every citizen? Ask students to share their writing responses and discuss how they would react if they were asked to give up vital resources for strangers being added to their community. Consider role-playing the idea of “survival of the fittest” to demonstrate what happens when a community’s resources are strained, and individuals begin to rely on survival instincts.

Thematic Connections
Questions for Group Discussion

Family–The main characters of both novels have nontraditional family structures. Discuss with students how the main characters acclimate to their unconventional families in the towns of Ember and Sparks. How do their family relationships change from one book to the next? How does the absence of a mother affect both Doon and Lina? Both Doon and Lina are very responsible young people. How are their responsible dispositions related to their family roles?

Lina and Doon share a friendship in both novels, and Doon attempts a friendship with Tick in The People of Sparks. Lina and Doon recognize positive and negative qualities in their friendships, a key aspect of accepting someone as your friend. Ask students to keep a log of how Lina and Doon perceive their friendships and how their friendships wax and wane throughout both books. What personality traits do they admire in one another and in Tick? What qualities do they find troublesome in each other and in Tick? As an extension activity, ask students to write a paragraph describing what they admire about their best friends.

The Effects of War–
Both novels are set in a post apocalyptic world. Ember is a last refuge for the human race and Sparks is a post-disaster society starting over. Ask students to identify the lasting effects of war on both societies. What is the author’s message to readers? Ask students to imagine a world where technology and abundant resources no longer exist. How would their lives be altered?

How does greed escalate to conflict? Ask students to trace incidents of greed by both townspeople and politicians as the characters progress from one novel to the next. Create a timeline that illustrates how townspeople allowed fear and greed to lead them into battle. What is the ultimate message about greed in both novels? What is the message about humankind and war? What is the author trying to say about corruption and power? Are the events of these novels a realistic reflection of human nature?

Community Leadership–
In small groups, ask students to discuss the role of community leadership in both novels and whether the leaders acted as good role models. Which characters provided true leadership for the towns? When times were tough, how did the leaders of Ember and Sparks provide for the citizens fairly?

Connecting to the Curriculum

Art–Lina dreams of a world full of color and wonders what it might look like. She uses drawing as a way to express her dreams about faraway cities and unknown regions. She says that pictures can capture an idea or a place in ways language cannot. Ask students to sketch a place they have often dreamed about, like Lina does, and carefully select colors that reflect the mood and tone of the dream. Request that students accompany their artwork with a one-page explanatory essay.

Language Arts–Ask students to write a magazine article for a travel magazine that describes either Ember or Sparks as a travel destination. Cite lines from either text that describe what it’s like to live in Ember or Sparks. Ask students to use elements of descriptive language like imagery, simile, and metaphor in their writing.

Science–Both novels hinge on electricity, whether it’s a waning light source in The City of Ember or the need to reinvent electricity in The People of Sparks. Using the internet resources in this guide, have students research the fundamentals of electricity. How does it work? Who discovered it? What are the key scientific principles behind it? As an extension, encourage students to explore the Watt’s on Your Mind Web site http://www.wattsnew.com/wattsnew3/castlegate/castlegate.html to learn about wasting electricity.

The idea of growing food and nurturing plants from seeds is paramount in both books. Have students grow food from seeds and research the science behind it, like photosynthesis and the life cycle of a plant. Helpful suggestions for lesson plans can be found in these Web sites:

Social Studies & Geography–When the citizens of Ember escape their dark society for a more promising land, they became refugees. Ask students to define the word refugee and research the global refugee crisis. Provide your students with a brief overview of the top 10 locations on the planet with the highest population of refugees, then ask them to each choose one, and give a three page overview of that location’s current refugee situation as well as a brief history of its cause.

Ask students to use a map to pinpoint the 10 areas of the world with the most refugees: Afghanistan, Angola, Burma, Burundi, Congo-Kinshasa, Eritrea, Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Somalia, and Sudan. Have students consider why refugees flee their homelands and why some countries deny refugees access into their territories. This assignment is suitable for older grades.

Economics–The principles of supply and demand dictate what resources are available in the towns of Ember and Sparks. As Lina says in The City of Ember, “You can’t divide a can of applesauce evenly among all the people in the city” (p. 153). Teach students about the concept of supply and demand and ask them to make a list of all the items in the novels that are in demand. Then ask students to think about the creative ways in which the novel’s characters supply these items.

Music–The townspeople of Ember have a “Song of the City” that describes the town and its people. Ask students to write a song, the lyrics of which reflect the spirit and the mission of their community and describe the kind of people who live there. Encourage students to use melodies that reflect the tone of the written descriptions.


Vocabulary / Use of Language

The language in The City of Ember is descriptive and thought provoking. Students should define the following words by using the context of the novel: resonant (p. 29), enmeshed (p. 55), moldering (p. 57), pungent (p. 59), and chortled (p.92).

The language in The People of Sparks is equally as challenging. Words for study include: tasseled (p.25), flummoxed (p.67), and thermodynamics (p. 110). To deepen vocabulary understanding, challenge students to use the words in a descriptive paragraph about an event or character from one of the novels.


Related Titles

Lily’s Crossing
Patricia Reilly Giff
Effects of War • Friendship • Family
Grades 4—7 / 0-440-41453-9

All the Way Home
Patricia Reilly Giff
Bravery • Friendship • Belonging
Grades 5 up / 0-440-41182-3

Pictures of Hollis Woods
Patricia Reilly Giff
Family • Friendship • Belonging
Grades 3—8 / 0-385-32655-6
Wendy Lamb Books

The Secret Garden
Frances Hodgson Burnett
Bravery • Friendship • Belonging
Grades 5—9 / 0-440-40055-4

The War Between the Classes
Gloria Milowitz
Discrimination • Racism • Prejudice
Grades 5 up / 0-440-99406-3


Prepared by Jennifer L. Hart, International Baccalaureate Coordinator, Thomas Jefferson High School, Richmond, Virginia



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