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The Emerald Atlas (Books of Beginning) Paperback – April 24, 2012
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, April 2011: With a timeless writing style that invokes thoughts of children’s fantasy classics such as Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, author John Stephens weaves a gripping tale of mystery and magic into The Emerald Atlas. His enchanting prose and spot-on wit can only be described as both hip (Stephens was previously the executive producer of Gossip Girls) and Dickensian, a delightful combination that will both engage young readers with its relatable nature and fascinate them with its aberrant charm. If Stephens's comic finesse and archetypal writing style aren’t enough to engage young readers, they will no doubt be captivated by the plot. Stephens's complex formula for time travel and fascinating explanation for the disappearance of the magical realm is so convincing that readers might begin to believe that there is, in fact, far more to the world than meets the eye. Thought-provoking and enchanting, The Emerald Atlas has the makings of a children’s classic. --Jacqueline Segall
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.--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"Rich with wonder and personality, The Emerald Atlas is a terrific read. I wholeheartedly recommend it, and look forward to more." -- Brandon Mull, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Fablehaven and Beyonders
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.”
From the Hardcover edition.
Top customer reviews
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While some young readers may be turned off by the filler after the prologue that establishes the characters and serves as plot exposition, if they know where this is headed, they will hang in there. I was reminded a little of C.S. Lewis, but I found John Stephens writing style far more approachable and inviting. The world he's created is original and fascinating. It includes dwarves, elves, witches, wizards and a few creations of his own, like Screechers, which are deliciously scary. It combines a lot of my favorite themes magic and prophesies -and perhaps the best damned explanation of time travel I've ever read.
John Stephens' characters, though slightly archetypal in nature, are warm and interesting. It is obvious the children are strongly bonded and self-reliant. It's heart breaking that Kate, the oldest sister, has become a mother figure to her siblings. You can just feel the girls' frustration with their dwarf obsessed brother, Michael, and the stress caused by Emma's thirst to prove, to herself and everyone else, that she can take care of herself, even if she is the youngest. Though there may occasionally be some dissention in the ranks they marshal around her and keep close. They may not have had an easy life, being bounced from orphanage to orphanage, but it seems to have prepared them for what lies ahead. I love the way these characters are written.
It is obvious that Mr. Stephens writes for television; his story plays out in scenes and the reader often doesn't get to connect deeply with the character, especially when points of view shift. However, connections are forged anyway because the characters are so strong -you know them. As the series progresses, it would be wonderful to see him develop a relationship with his characters.
John Stephens' The Emerald Atlas doesn't disappoint. Though sufficient closure was reached, there are still many questions left unanswered and I can't wait to read the rest of this series to find out more. I bought and read this as an e-book and have already ordered my hard cover copy because this one is a definite keeper.
Three children, ten years, too many ophanages to count. What wonders will they discover? Why did their parents abandon them? Will they ever see mom and dad again?
This book is written in a manner that young readers will understand. The language and words will be easily understood. The story has enough twists and turns to hold the readers attention andkeep them reading. There were times when the story seemed to wander, as Kate thought about things.
John Stephens always wanted to write books for children. In this book, he has succeeded. He has not only written abook for children, but he has written a book that could become a childrens classic.
I can easily recommend this book to children and teens. It may be the book that gets them hooked on reading. I will be reading more of this authors books.
The prologue was mysterious and chilling, the children's characters instantly likeable, and the whole story suspenseful. For his first attempt, John Stevens did a phenomenal job. His writing style is perfectly balanced and he thought through his plot and its mechanics very well. I'm not sure what the age recommendation is on this book...it doesn't really need one. I'm 18, but I stil check the children's section for decent (if sometimes light) reading. This was much better than the stuff they publish as YA literature.
The best way I can describe The Emerald Atlas is to compare it to the Narnia series and The Lord of the Rings - but not that Stevens is merely rehashing what has been done before...Atlas is completely original, while having the same elements that make Narnia and LOTR so popular. If you are a fan of good fantasy books, Atlas is perfect for you. Atlas is full of humor, donuts, adventure, time travel, friendship, and horror (although not too much, just enough to give you chills every once in a while).
The beginning may start a little slowly for some readers, but once you are past the first five chapters - and arrive at Prof. Pym's "orphanage" - you are comepletely with the story. By the time Gabriel enters, you can't put the book down, not that you would want to. By the end, you have no idea what will happen, and the last chapter is probably the best of all...
Hurray for Kate, Michael, and Emma! Hurray for Professor Pym and the dwarves! And, of course, hurray for donuts!
Bumping it up to the full 5 stars, because my kid is now counting down the days until The Black Reckoning is released. (and I'm looking forward to reading it, too. Ha!)
Here's how my 10 year old kid put it, which is kind of perfect:
"The main characters don't actually DO anything. Everything just sort of happens TO them."
I understand that this is children's literature, and I wouldn't give it only 2 stars if my own kid hadn't rendered the judgment and articulated the main problem himself (he's almost at the end, but only reading about 10 pages a night...with better books he reads about 100 pages a day).
It's action-packed, for sure, but hollow. It's only mildly endearing and slightly entertaining.
It definitely ain't no new Narnia or LOTR.
Not even close.
Edit: Adding another couple of stars because my kid wants Fire Chronicle over all other potential toys/presents. He wants the Fire Chronicle more than he wants LED lights for his bike tires, etc.
Maybe you have to be a kid to get this book series.
Most recent customer reviews
Fun. The characters were a tad annoying at times (oh, you really expect the bad guy to tell the truth? Do you have to pick a fight right NOW?Read more