Tag: book review

Earth Science: Up-Close and Creative!

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.
Book Stats:
pages – 270
Lexile – 680
Accelerated reader grade level – 5
Grade level interest – 4-8
Science Tie-ins:
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.
Happy Reading!

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From the Beginning…

After writing her first two novels documenting Lina and Doon’s adventures out of Ember and into the new world, author Jeanne DuPrau visits the pre-Disaster world 50 years prior in her novel The Prophet of Yonwood.  In this third installment of the Ember series, DuPrau takes us to the small town of Yonwood, North Carolina.  Our Protagonist is 11-year-old Nickie, a visitor to the town of Yonwood during a time of tumultuous world events as well as strange events within the town.  Nickie’s great-grandfather has just passed away, leaving behind a mysterious old house packed with possessions.  The house intrigues Nickie, a precocious and curious young girl, who quickly decides that her family should keep the house and make Yonwood their home.  But Nickie has yet to discover the secrets of Yonwood.
As Nickie’s aunt Crystal sets to work preparing the house for sale, Nickie sets out to discover as much as she can about Yonwood, encountering many interesting characters along the way.  These characters include: Mrs. Brenda Beeson, a stern rule-abiding woman who believes that Yonwood can be saved from the troubles of the world so long as everyone follows the rules; Amanda, a teenager on her own, making a living as a caretaker; and the Prophet, Althea Tower.  At the time our book takes place, the world is in crisis with the possibility of a nuclear war on the horizon.  But Althea Tower has had a vision about the war filled with such great horror that its caused her to become bed-ridden while mumbling odd rules.  Mrs. Beeson convinces the town that the rules must be followed exactly so that Yonwood can be saved from this terrible fate.  Nickie also wants to do something good for the world and thinks Mrs. Beeson may be right… until she starts to question the prophets vision.
The Prophet of Yonwood is a fantastic book filled with mystery and adventure.  Although it is part of the Ember series, the book takes away from the time of Ember to ask the question ‘how did it all begin?’
Book Stats:
Pages – 289
Lexile – 760
Grade Level Interest – 4th -8th
Cross-Curricular Tie-ins:
Although this book could tie in well with 8th grade U.S. history curriculum, allowing students to ask questions about conflict and resolution between warring nations as well as civilization development, there are many explicit references to religion throughout the book.  Depending on the population of your learning environment, the religious aspects touched upon in this novel may be an issue for some families.

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The Saga Continues…

In her fourth and final Ember book, The Diamond of Darkhold, author Jeanne DuPrau brings us back to Lina and Doon, picking up where they left off in the town of Sparks.  Lina has settled into a quite life in town working with the town doctor while Doon is working hard to build a new life for the people of Ember.  While Lina’s character has mellowed and matured (she’s not quite the carefree adventurer we remember) Doon is as curious and driven as ever.  So, when Doon proposes that he and Lina embark on their most dangerous journey yet, Lina needs convincing.  But, with their fellow townspeople suffering from harsh conditions and little food, Lina knows Doon has the right idea.  It’s time for them to return to Ember.
The Diamond of Darkhold provides the perfect end to this fun and exciting literature adventure.  Discovering along with Lina and Doon what is left of Ember after the mass exodus is both thrilling and sad.  Additionally, we are given a glimpse into the future for Lina, Doon, and the others of Ember as well as the town of Sparks.  Our protagonists are once again young heroes saving their home, this time led by Doon.
Book Stats:
Pages – 285
Lexile – 790
Grade Level Interest – 5th-8th
Science Tie-ins:
What I love most about this series is how well it can tie into middle school curriculum outside of ELA, with the exception, perhaps, of the third book.  Having said that, from a curriculum perspective it would ‘work’ to leave out the 3rd book which does not provide any necessary information to Lina and Doon’s story line.  Except for a short (no more than 1 paragraph) reference at the end of book 4, book 3 can be removed from the lineup allowing for a cohesive story line surrounding Lina and Doon that also pairs spectacularly well with other curriculum areas.  (And since I am a curriculum nerd, I love a good pairing!  Some look for a fine wine to pair with a lovely meal, I look for a fantastic read to pair with a unit of amazing learning).
In The Diamond of Darkhold, Lina and Doon discover a secret during their journey back to the city of Ember, one that could change their entire way of life.  The builders left behind one final gift, technology to harness the power of the sun.  This provides an excellent opportunity to encourage students to study alternative energy sources (solar, wind, water).  The NGSS for middle school outlines standards for students to learn about alternative energy sources, most of which is concentrated in the 8th grade.  This is a perfect opportunity to link literature to a study on solar power.  Consider having students design solar powered cars or researching other areas such as wind and water power.
For a cohesive middle school curriculum program that links ELA and science through all three grades, consider reading one book each year.  Book 1, The City of Ember, can be read in 6th grade along side a unit about the Earth and Geology.  Book 2, The People of Sparks, can be read in 7th grade along side a unit about the biology of plants, and Book 4, The Diamond of Darkhold, can be read in 8th grade along side a unit about natural energy sources.  Pairing literature with science… does it get any better?
Happy Reading!

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