Monday, October 29, 2012

Sparking a Transformation

When the people of Ember thought all was lost, a couple of young kids were able to find their way out of the underground, dying city. Now, in The People of the Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau, the people of Ember must find a way to survive in a whole new world.

Lina and Doon knew they couldn't stay in Ember any longer, but they didn't anticipate how life would be aboveground. It was beautiful, full of light and color like nothing the over 400 Ember refugees had ever seen. After three days, they stumbled upon a town called Sparks where life was hard, but people were living. In a world where multiple plagues and world wars had ravaged the land and left only a few survivors, the people of Sparks were survivors. But with only 300 or so residents of the small settlement, the addition of the 400+ ember refugees makes life tough on everyone. Barely able to feed themselves in rough winters, they have no idea what they are going to do now that they have more than doubled their population.

At first people are kind and supportive and even a little amused by the Emberites naivete. They forget the people from the underground city wouldn't know about seasons, mountains, birds, or flowers, but they enjoy teaching them new things. Soon, however, the wear and tear of taking care of people who don't know how to take care of themselves makes charity difficult, and the people of Sparks begin to resent their new arrivals. Doon and Lina know something must be done, but they have very different ideas of how to do it. How do you stop a war between two groups of people who are both right?

There is something magical about this series that when I read it, I feel like I am reading a fairy tale. I don't know how to explain it, and it isn't just the "youth" of the story, but it really does feel like reading a fairy tale full or moral and ethical lessons we all need to learn. It seems like a dark and heavy story for a middle reader, but it surprisingly isn't. It is told in a way that middle readers can relate to and never be overwhelmed by, which is the genius behind this series. 

This is a great second installment to the series, as it takes the people of Ember in a whole new direction. But more importantly are the central themes of outsiders, being different, tolerance, and helping people even when it makes things difficult for you. This is a beautiful series to read in your class with your students or at home together with your child as it has so much to offer as they grow and learn about the world. It should be a staple in every library as well. I am impressed by DuPrau, and can't wait to see where the story takes us!

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