Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Children's Book Review: The Emerald Atlas

The Emerald Atlas
John Stephens

I love to read fantasy books when I can snuggle under a warm blanket and drink hot chocolate. February’s cold and gloomy days can always be brightened with a bit of whimsy. This month, I chose to read The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens. It satisfied my craving for magic and inspired me to keep reading through to the sequel, The Fire Chronicle. I must admit, this book begins like many other novels in the genre, with orphans.…Or at least with kids who are believed to be orphans. Emma, Kate, and Michael have spent most of their lives bring bounced around from orphanage to orphanage, but they thwart every attempt families make to adopt them. That’s because they know that their parents are not dead.

The beginning of this novel shows them being ejected from one of the most derelict orphanages they’ve ever visited, The Edgar Allen Poe Home for Incorrigible and Hopeless Orphans. After getting kicked out of a joint like that, the only institution that will take them in is located in the remote and mysterious mansion in a town called Cambridge Falls. They find that they are the only orphans living in this so-called orphanage and are confounded by the eccentric owner of the property, Dr. Stanislaus Pym.

As soon as the kids are left to their own devices, they explore the mansion. It doesn’t take long before they come across something fantastic. They stumble across a room full of old photographs where they unearth an ancient green tome filled with blank pages. The kids waste no time in figuring out the book’s magical powers. When they touch an old photograph to the pages of the book, they are transported back to the time and place where the picture was taken. They find this out accidentally, of course, and teleport themselves fifty years into the past. There, they witness a witch (called The Countess) who threatens to murder every child in the town within a week’s time if the children’s parents fail to find an artifact. In a panic, the children launch themselves back to the present time but they are in such a rush that they leave Michael in the past with The Countess. When the sisters go back to save him, they lose the book and strand themselves. The three so-called orphans embark on a quest to stay together, retrieve the book, and ultimately save the children from a tragic fate.

This book is full of fantastical elements that can be found in the most popular novels in the genre. This series contains a kindly giant, noble dwarves, an evil witch, magic, and kids destined for greatness (among other things, of course). Despite the familiar fantasy tropes, the book is full of surprises. For readers that have exhausted the Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket series, this is an excellent way to keep the magic alive. This would also make a great introduction to kids who love magic and adventure, but have never read fantasy. It’s a great novel that will keep you turning the pages to see what happens next. It’s would be appropriate for upper elementary to middle school students.

Mollie McFarland
Springville Road Library

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