Title: The Emerald Atlas
Author: John Stephens
Genre: Children’s fantasy, middle grade fantasy
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: ARC from publisher through Shelf Awareness
First line: The girl was shaken awake.
Kate, Emma, and Michael have been on their own since they were small. Emma was just a baby the night they were taken away from their parents. Kate, now fourteen, has done her best to care for her younger siblings, always remembering her mother’s last words to her: “Keep your brother and sister safe.” and “We’ll all be together soon.”
Years have gone by since that night, years in which the children have been shuttled from orphanage to foster home to orphanage, always holding on to their mother’s promise. Finally, they arrive in Cambridge Falls, the only children in an orphanage in what seems to be a magical town, run by the mysterious Dr. Pym. While exploring their new home, they find a book – a book that allows them to travel through time. As Kate, Emma, and Michael try to find their way back to their own time, they must first defeat the evil witch The Countess and her hordes of Screechers – and discover their connection to the Emerald Atlas and the reason for their parents’ long absence.
The kids and I finished The Emerald Atlas earlier this week, and it is definitely one of our favorite read-alouds of all time. In fact, we ended up having to rush like crazy Monday morning to get schoolwork done, because I read long past our allotted time in order to finish the book. I am always thrilled when we discover another series together, especially a well-written fantasy series. John Stephens has created a truly unique world with a fully-formed history, one that involves dwarves, witches and wizards, and a tribal culture that hearkens back to the early Native Americans.
The three siblings whose adventure this is are admirably real. While they have had to stick together and get along on their own, they still squabble and annoy one another like typical brothers and sisters do. Kate, the oldest, is weighed down with the responsibility of keeping her family together. Michael and Emma’s safety is her first priority, and her desire to protect them can sometimes lead to poor decisions. Michael longs to be brave and honorable, as his fascination with Dwarvish culture attests. He is bright and quick-thinking, and his courage shines through when tested. Emma is fearless and independent and a little bit of a brat at times – but she is fiercely loyal to those she loves.
The kids and I all adored these children and became entranced in their fantastical adventure. The story comes to a satisfying conclusion at the end of The Emerald Atlas, but it is obvious that the children’s journey is far from over. This is the first book in the Books of Beginning series, which I am assuming will be a trilogy, as there are three Books of Beginning mentioned. We are all looking forward to book two.