It’s hard to believe, but this month marks the 10th anniversary of Jeanne DuPrau’s bestselling modern-day classic, The City of Ember. One part action-adventure, one part mystery, and one part dystopian, it became an instant hit with librarians, educators, and kids across the country. From there it spawned three sequels: The People of Sparks, The Prophet of Yonwood, and The Diamond of Darkhold. In 2008, there was a feature film made starring Bill Murray , Tim Robbins, and Saoirse Ronan.
The City of Ember is the story of Lina Mayfleet and her friend Doon Harrow as they try to uncover the mystery of why the lights of their city, Ember, seem to be going out. Of course, this problem wouldn’t be half as terrifying if 1) Ember wasn’t built far beneath the ground 2) electricity provides the only source of light available and 3) its inhabitants believe that it is the only light left in a dark world. When asked about her inspiration for the story, DuPrau explained that she was partially inspired by the nuclear fears that came hand-in-hand with growing up in the 1950s. Likewise, she was fascinated by the idea of a city that had no light outside of its flickering electricity. In her own words:
“What would it be like to live in such darkness, and to know that light and food and supplies were all running out? And not to know about weather or trees or animals (except for a few rats and insects) or any other places? All this grabbed my imagination. And once I’d written The City of Ember, I hoped it would make people think about our world—about the sun and the moon, the forests and the ocean, the wind and the rain—and how precious it all is.”
As with all great dystopian books, there’s some element of our modern day world—some nagging concern the author is trying to explore. They tend to serve as both a reflection of our times and, occasionally, a cautionary tale if certain measures aren’t taken to correct that course. What makes The City of Ember such a great book is that it does possess these great underlying questions about environmentalism, questioning society, and exploration through science… but it’s also just plain fun to read.
To celebration this big birthday, Random House Children’s Books has released a paperback deluxe edition that includes an introduction, a full-color poster, and a brand-new story by the author herself. There is also a beautifully illustrated graphic novel edition available if you’d like to immerse yourself in the world of Ember on your next return visit.
Are you or your students fans of The City of Ember? How would you incorporate the text in a classroom setting?