Studying the formation of the Earth and all of it’s non-living parts is an exciting adventure for middle school student-scientists. But what if they had to live under the Earth? How would that change everything they know about life? Luckily for them, Jeanne DuPrau’s The City of Ember imagines just that, painting an existence where humanity has moved underground but the move was so long ago, no one remembers anything different.
The story begins with our two young heroes, Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow, on the day of their job assignment ceremony. At just 12 years old, Lina and Doon are finished with their education and will select their jobs by pulling them out of a bag. Such a random act of job selection is bound to create disappointment but as fate would have it, Lina and Doon each receive jobs the other was hoping for and quickly arrange a trade. This small act is the catalyst that intertwines these two unlikely companions as the plot of the story builds.
The city in which Lina and Doon inhabit is a place riddled with problems. The warehouses that have stored all of their food and resources since the beginning of known time are running short on supplies and the electric generator they rely on is slowing giving out. The generator is the only source of light and heat in their world. Without it, the entire city threatens to be plunged into utter and complete darkness forever. Since no one alive knows that they actually live under the Earth, this existence is the only one they believe possible but it is quickly coming to an end.
Although they are both aware of the looming danger surrounding their city, Lina and Doon prove to be quite opposite in character, dealing with the uncertainty in different ways. Where Lina is carefree, adventurous, and sometimes irresponsible, Doon is serious to a fault. But, when Lina uncovers a secret that may save the city from certain death, she knows Doon is the only person she can turn to for help.
The City of Ember is choked full of mystery, intrigue, and suspense. Built around characters that are 12 years old, this is a perfect novel for young readers, especially those in 6th grade who are likely studying components of Earth science as part of their Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Additionally, because we have both a heroine and a hero, the book is likely to appeal to both boys and girls.
pages – 270
Lexile – 680
Accelerated reader grade level – 5
Grade level interest – 4-8
The City of Ember ties in well with NGSS standard MS-ESS2-4 (Develop a model to describe the cycling of water through Earth’s systems driven by energy from the sun and the force of gravity) typically taught in 6th grade. Using the book as a jumping of point, students can explore questions such as:
*Do rivers or other water sources exist underground?
*How does water cycle throughout the Earth, allowing it to flow both underground and above ground?
*If people could live underground, what resources would they need?
*Is there a place on Earth where a city like Ember could exist? Can you made a model of such a city existing on our Earth?
Social Studies Tie-ins:
The City of Ember also ties in well with middle school social studies standards, particularly those found in 6th and 7th grade. While reading the novel, students can examine the following characteristics of the city:
*What are the geographical features that make it an ideal place to build a city? What are the restrictions?
*What are the political, social, economic, and religious structures in the city and how do these effect the inhabitants?
Students can use their analysis of these questions about this fictional city to compare to the real-life ancient civilizations of our Earth.