The Emerald Atlas: The Books of Beginning (2011) by John Stephens
Suggested age range: 10 and up (Knopf, 417 pages)
Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
The Book: An enchanted world filled with monsters, dwarves, and evil countesses. A book of power called The Emerald Atlas. Time travel. All these elements make up this story featuring three orphans, Kate, Michael, and Emma. Three special children who have moved from one orphanage to the next since they were very young, the trio are convinced their parents are alive somewhere and will eventually return for them. However, upon the discovery of an enchanted book, the three find themselves transported back in time, and race to save an entire town from the evils of a countess who will stop at nothing to find one of the “books of beginning.” During their journey, Kate, the eldest of the children slowly begins to realize that she and her siblings may have a far greater purpose and destiny than she had ever imagined.
Spirituality in The Emerald Atlas: The relationships among the siblings represents one spiritual aspect of the story that I appreciated. I think that Stephens portrayed the significance of the bond between brother and sisters very well, and I don’t always read stories where I am especially moved by the strength of the family connection. Kate’s strong sense of justice and wanting to make things right was another dimension of the story that resonated with me, as well as the way she has a glimpse of her mother at one point in the book. The interaction between the two is an amazing moment, and I appreciated the way Stephens portrayed Kate as working through issues of abandonment that she surely must have felt.
Who Should Read This Book: If you enjoy fantasy stories like Narnia or Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, you must read this book. I enjoy both C.S. Lewis & Philip Pullman’s work, and I was sucked into the world Stephens created. The story is filled with twists and turns and some recognizable aspects of a fantasy story, but the novel retains a uniqueness that kept it refreshing and exciting. There are moments to laugh and to cry. I haven’t read the second book yet, but I have hopes that it will be as interesting as the first.
The Final Word: I had been planning to read this book for over a year and I am so glad I picked up the audio book first, and then checked out the book from the library. It’s a delightful read and a fantasy you can really get lost in. I will definitely be recommending this book to young readers who love an exciting fantasy with an ending that leaves you wanting more. The characters are memorable—especially the dwarf, Hamish. Enjoy The Emerald Atlas!