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The Emerald Atlas (Books of Beginning) Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 5, 2011
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Amazon-Exclusive Q&A with Author John Stephens
Amazon: You started off in television, co-producing and writing for The Gilmore Girls and The O.C., and then moved on to be the executive producer (and occasional writer and director) for Gossip Girls. After establishing yourself in Hollywood, what inspired you to change your course and write a children's book trilogy?
John: Honestly, sometimes I ask myself that question in the reverse. How did I ever end up in Hollywood? The truth is that writing novels was my first ambition, and given my druthers when I finished grad school, I probably would’ve gone off and just written books. The only problem was that at the time I was pretty bad at it. I really kinda stunk. As it turned out, I needed another decade of learning the craft before I was ready to write a novel. And, fortunately, writing for Hollywood turns out to be a great training ground. You learn how to work on a schedule, tell a satisfying story, build character, construct scenes, you develop a feel for dramatic momentum…and you get to tool around the Warner Bros lot on a golf cart, which is kind of awesome. In fact, writing and producing television was so much fun I kind of forgot about writing books for a while. That is, till the day I read The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman and realized that all I wanted to do was write children’s fantasy novels. And luckily by then I had the skills to pull it off without embarrassing myself.
Though I do still miss cruising around the lot on golf carts.
Amazon: The whole time I was reading The Emerald Atlas, I kept thinking what a great movie it would make. Are there any plans for a film version?
John: I hope so! Wouldn’t that be awesome? Unfortunately, at present, if people are making plans, they haven’t told me about them.
Amazon: I loved the characters of Kate, Emma, and Michael. They were all so relatable. I felt as if they were kids I had met before. Were your three young heroes inspired by anyone in your life or from your childhood?
John: Kate not so much (though she does share a name with my younger sister). Her closest inspiration came from a character in the movie Not One Less by Zyang Yimou, where this young girl is put in charge of a schoolhouse in rural China, and the teacher tells her that she’ll be paid if all the children are there when he returns. Well, of course one of the kids, this little rapscallion, runs away, and she has to track him down to this big city. And the job of finding this kid in this huge city is OVERWHELMING and yet this girl is unbelievably tenacious. I just loved that sense of incredible strength in someone so young.
Emma is partly inspired from a friend of mine, a writer I worked with who can be incredibly combative and feisty, but also has an enormous heart. I love that combination of fury and vulnerability.
Michael, in many ways, was based on me. We’re both the middle brother of two sisters, studious, wear glasses, think dwarves are awesome, and have a need to document our worlds. However, like all characters, he grew away from me and became much braver and more resourceful than I could ever hope to be.
Amazon: The fantasy world in The Emerald Atlas is described in such detail that it really comes to life in the mind of the reader. What was your inspiration for the world that Kate, Emma, and Michael happen upon?
John: The inspiration was the Adirondacks of upstate New York. A few years ago, I spent a lot of time up near Lake Placid and I found the area to be really magical and just imbued with history, in particular, a romantic, turn-of-the-century, Edith Wharton-type of history that I found very appealing. British fantasy writers are surrounded by buildings, streets, and graveyards that are centuries old. Fantasy and magic seems to cling to those places. It’s a little bit harder to find that in the States, but I felt the Adirondacks had that quality in spades, as well as being near the old stomping grounds of Washington Irving, who sort of began the tradition of American fantasy I was trying to nod towards.
Amazon: You have a distinctly individual voice and plotline in The Emerald Atlas, but your writing style does invoke thoughts of some children’s fantasy classics. The beginning portion of The Emerald Atlas reminded me a little bit of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, while the main body of your work read more similarly to C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia and Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and the action scenes reminded me most of J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Which writers would you say inspired you most as an author?
John: First off, to say that my book reminds you of those writers is a HUGE compliment, so thank you. I feel very indebted to particular writers for very specific things. Among the ones you mention…from Pullman, I love the authority of his other worlds. He believes in Lyra’s world completely and he makes you believe in it. Also, his characters live at the edges of their feelings, which makes reading the books enormously exciting. From Lewis, at his best, he can convey a true sense of magic to readers, especially young readers. And though I don’t love all his books, his prose is always great. I admire so much about J.K. Rowling’s books but just to pick a couple things, she has a Dickensian affection for side characters that I also have. Also, she shares with Roald Dahl, one of my other literary heroes, a taste for the comic grotesque. I’m deeply indebted to Edith Nesbit, most particularly for her Bastable books. I love her humor, her lightness of touch and above all the interaction of her children. And finally, I’d just say Dickens for so many things, but mostly because he proved again and again that a funny book can also be moving.
Starred Review, School Library Journal, June 2011:
"Unfolding magic and secrets deepen the story and build excitement as it reaches its complex and time-bending climax....Echoes of other popular fantasy series, from “Harry Potter” to the “Narnia” books, are easily found, but debut author Stephens has created a new and appealing read that will leave readers looking forward to the next volumes in this projected trilogy."
Publishers Weekly, January 18, 2011:
"This fast-paced, fully imagined fantasy is by turns frightening and funny, and the siblings are well-crafted and empathetic heroes. Highly enjoyable, it should find many readers."
The Wall Street Journal, April 2, 2011:
"[A] great story is all in the telling, and in 'The Emerald Atlas' the telling is superb...First-time novelist John Stephens has created a vicarious adventure for children ages 9-15—the first in a trilogy—filled with unexpected twists and marvelously distinct and vivid characters."
BookPage, April 2, 2011:
"With magic, humor and unforgettable characters, John Stephens’ remarkable debut novel follows Kate, Michael and Emma as they attempt to outwit the Countess, rescue the children and maybe even save the world in the process. Unanswered questions and two more books to locate ensure a sequel and more robust adventures ahead."
Realms of Fantasy, April 2011:
“Ambitious, entertaining, magical, and whimsical, this marks a strong beginning to a new trilogy, invoking just a little Harry Potter and Series of Unfortunate Events along the way.”
Booklist, March 15, 2011:
“Fast-paced and engaging, with plenty of action, humor, and secrets propelling the plot. . . . Themes of family and responsibility . . . will easily resonate with young readers.”
Kirkus, March 15, 2011:
“Each character has such a likable voice that the elaborate story doesn’t feel overcomplicated. . . . The only gripe readers might initially have is with its length, but by the end, they’ll immediately wish it was longer.”
Library Media Connection, May / June 2011:
“A rollicking fantasy filled with shiver-inspiring evil creatures and quiet heroes. The feisty sisters and the intellectual brother will win the hearts of readers of all ages.”
CrackingTheCover.com, April 5, 2011:
"“Creativity and wit abound in 'The Emerald Atlas.' Author John Stephens could have easily fallen into the trap of building on someone else’s ideas. But he doesn’t.
Stephens doesn’t write down to his readers. Rather he offers a sophisticated narrative that will appeal to children and adults alike. It’s clear he had fun writing and that 'The Emerald Atlas' was painstakingly thought out.”
Top Customer Reviews
The story is about the love of family, faith, and magic. The three main characters are siblings who have been taken from their parents ten years ago, forced to grow up in one orphanage after another, until finally ending up in an old mansion owned by a mysterious old man. Before they meet the old man, the children explore the house until they come upon a door that magically appears, leading fourteen Kate, and her twelve year old brother Michael, along with feisty eleven year old Emma, into a laboratory of sorts. There they find a mysterious green leather book with filled with blank pages. When Michael, who chronicles their lives in his journal, drops a picture onto one of the blank pages, the children are transported through time, finding themselves watching in horror as a beautiful witch threatens to drop a child into a lake.
I loved the back-story of how magic left the land, along with some real history thrown in for good measure. Stephens does a great job of adding depth to the story and for making believable and unforgettable characters.
Set in modern times yet full of magic, the Emerald Atlas is non-stop action with lessons of loyalty, love and the importance of family woven masterfully into a tale that kids of all ages will find hard to put down.Read more ›
"The Emerald Atlas" is book 1 of the Books of Beginning, a new young adult fantasy series by John Stephens. The book centers on three children, Kate, Michael and Emma who on Christmas Eve are spirited away from their parents when they're very young for safe keeping from unexplained dark forces. Kate being the oldest is the trio's leader and has vowed to keep watch over her younger brother and sister. Michael is the nerdy, bookworm middle child who is obsessed with dwarves. Emma is the baby of the three but is brash, brave and outspoken. The children have spent the majority of their youth bouncing from orphanage to orphanage. As they continuously long for their parents return, Kate, Michael and Emma eventually find themselves at a secluded small town orphanage in a mountainous mansion. They quickly discover they're the only children there and eagerly begin to search out answers as to why. When they accidentally stumble across a strange green book that allows them to magically travel back and forth through time by using photos their real adventure begins. Here are my thoughts on The Emerald Atlas;
+ Plenty of colorful and interesting characters that will appeal and resonate with young readers. The dwarves were actually my favorite even if they were stereotypical.
+ Three main characters will be easy for children to identify with.
+ Great cover art.
Cons <Contains Spoilers>
- Time travel aspects and ideas could be too confusing for young readers.
- Lacks originality and borrows from other fantasy stories such as Narnia, Golden Compass, Lord of the Rings etc.Read more ›
The other strength of this novel is the language which is witty and funny. At times, the language does get overly descriptive which makes it tedious and lumbering, but on the whole, the story is engaging and fun and should appeal to young adults who love a good fantasy read.
This book has everything fantasy fans love: great characters (humans, dwarves, creatures, wizards...) adventure, humor, battles, and loads upon loads of suspense. It's the first in a series, so be prepared to wait for book two. The writing is excellent, the pacing is excellent, it's ALL excellent. I promise. This is the perfect middle/upper middle grade fantasy!!
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I was a really good book at first, however I felt at some points in the book there were times when the book just got weird...Published 14 days ago by Anna Catlett
Interesting, imaginative story with twists and turns you won't see coming! Full of magical and suspenseful scenes. I can't wait to read the next installment!Published 2 months ago by Susan
The writing has a lovely rhythm, and is beautiful in its word choices, especially with the verbs. Setting descriptions were detailed enough but not too detailed. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Sieran Lane
I love dwarves like Michael so I totally loved this book. I also protect my family like Kate. It was awesome.Published 4 months ago by Stephanie Skuodas
Wonderful book for late teens - too violent for younger kids.Published 6 months ago by Kim Starling
I wasn't sure of what this book was about when I first picked it up. I certainly didn't anticipate what was in store for me. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Bookeater23
The series was a recommendation from my library and I guess they know me well because I love these books. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Brendan N. Bush
I enjoyed this book for what it was. If you like this genre and keep the target age in mind, you won't be disappointedPublished 9 months ago by Joshua C. Stenseth