This post includes English Language Arts and interdisciplinary, differentiated activities for The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau. It’s part of a series that shares English Language Arts and interdisciplinary, differentiated activities for selections from Duke TIP’s 4th-6th Grade Online Book Club for gifted and talented students, which you can re-purpose for your classroom.
Why The City of Ember?
- An inspiring, visionary female protagonist, Lina, and a well-defined male secondary character, Doon, who both supports and serves as a foil to, Lina
- An immersive, engaging, and mysterious post-apocalyptic, dystopian story; also a coming-of-age story
- Diction and figurative language that is particularly effective in creating the immersive setting and in reinforcing symbolism and themes, which provides excellent opportunities to develop gifted students’ close-reading and analytical skills
- Multiple rich social-emotional topics related to resilience, perseverance, emotional regulation, parental figure-child relationships, motivation, managing expectations, and goal-setting
- Exploration of the concepts of power, control, and the impulse to explore
- Engaging, challenging interdisciplinary connections in economics and basic electrical engineering
About the Book
In the city of Ember, a city surrounded by the darkness of the Unknown Regions, “day” comes from huge lights mounted throughout the city, and “night” comes when those lights are turned off. Everything in Ember is old, the supply of food and other goods is running out, and, worst of all, blackouts in the middle of the day are happening more and more frequently, and that can only mean one thing: the lights are failing.
Like all citizens of Ember, Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow are assigned jobs when they graduate from school at age 12. Lina has dreams of another city, beyond Ember, beyond the Unknown Regions, and Doon is determined to fix the generator that powers the city’s lights. Then Lina finds a mysterious document, and Doon uncovers his own mysteries in the massive Pipeworks below the city. Are these discoveries related? As the blackouts in Ember grow longer, can Lina and Doon find a way to save the people of Ember?
About the Author
Jeanne DuPrau has written five novels, six books of non-fiction, short stories and essays. The City of Ember, her first novel, was named an American Library Association Notable Book and a Kirkus Editor’s Choice, and it also received the Mark Twain Award. Ms. DuPrau lives in California.
Have you taught The City of Ember ?
Sample Reading Journal Prompts and Discussion Questions
- Look up “ember” in a dictionary. Reflect on why Jeanne DuPrau chose to name the city “Ember.
- Why did DuPrau choose “Ember” as the city’s name
- How well does that name fit the city it describes?
- As you read (or reread) the novel, what other examples of “embers” do you see in the story?
- After the long blackout, the mayor calls a town meeting to provide all citizens with “important information.” The mayor tells the people of Ember that the difficulties are “slight,” that the people need to be patient, and that solutions are being found. He urges them not to panic.
- Why do you think the mayor chooses this approach, rather than talking more directly to the people about the problems the city is facing?
- How does this approach help the mayor?
- How does it hurt him in the eyes of the people?
- How do the mayor’s words help the people?
- How do they hurt them?
- Have you ever had an experience when someone told you things were better than you knew they were? How did that make you feel?
- After the Town Meeting, Doon says, “It makes me so angry the way he talks to us” (88). Doon’s father then says, “The trouble with anger is, it gets hold of you. And then you aren’t the master of yourself anymore. Anger is” (89).
- Which other characters in the novel aren’t their own masters?
- What is controlling them?
- What are things in our world that can “get hold of” people, that can become a “master”?
- What are the consequences of being controlled by something like anger or some other “master”?
- After a significant event near the middle of the novel, Lina feels “as if she ha[s] suddenly gotten older” and is “a sort of mother herself now” (143). The City of Ember is, among other things, a coming-of-age story—a story that traces the growth and development of the main character, or protagonist, from childhood to adulthood. As you read or reread the novel, look for examples of Lina’s coming of age.
- How is she growing and changing in this story?
- How is she different in the end of the novel than she is in the beginning?
- Doon’s father frequently tells him, “You’re a good boy and a smart boy. You’ll do grand things someday, I know you will.” Doon “…ache[s] to do something important, like finding the secret of electricity, and, as his father watche[s], be rewarded for his achievement” (50).
- Doon’s father’s quote suggests that there is a connection between having a strength, like intelligence, and both an ability and a responsibility, to do “grand things” with that strength. Do you agree
- Share your favorite example of someone who did something “grand.”
- Sometimes we do things because we feel like we have to – we have a responsibility or duty to do them. Other times we do things because of what we will get – there is some kind of reward or recognition waiting for us at the end. Is responsibility or reward a more powerful motivator for you? Why?
- Doon says he wants to save the city, but he also wants to be recognized for his efforts in Harken Square. Based on the rest of the book, is responsibility or recognition a more powerful motivator for Doon? Find examples from the novel to support your answer.
- After his first day of work, Doon’s father tells him, “…it sounds unpleasant, I have to admit…. But the Pipeworks is your assignment, no way around it. What you get is what you get. What you do with what you get, though…that’s more the point, wouldn’t you say?” (51). Doon’s father’s advice sounds like some other famous statements you may have heard: “bloom where you are planted,” or “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
- Are these statements good advice? Why or why not?
How do they relate to some of the other ideas (like Lina’s impulse to explore the world beyond Ember)in the novel?
- Share some examples of characters in the novel who make the most of their “unpleasant” situations.
- Can you think of examples of characters who “get” something pretty good (in other words, they have a better situation than others), but who do some unpleasant things
- Share a time when you have made “lemonade” out of a “sour” situation. What did you learn from the experience?
- Are these statements good advice? Why or why not?
Interdisciplinary Topics to Explore
- an introduction to the basics of electricity
- an investigation of how a generator works
- an exploration of hydroelectric power and some of the largest hydroelectric dams in the United States and the world, including
- an overview of pioneers in the study of electricity
Economics in Action
- an introduction to the fundamental economic principle of scarcity
- an opportunity for students to learn about and reflect on the differences between wants and needs
- an exploration of supply and demand