The second book in the Book of Ember series is The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau. I actually had to steal this book away from my 9-year-old son. He was reading it, but his interest had begun to wan and so he wasn't spending as much time reading it (we've all been there, haven't we?). Once I finished The City of Ember I didn't want to wait much longer for him to pass the book to me, so I stuck a little sticky note into his spot and took it over. The first third of the book is a little slow, but it does pick up. The whole time I was reading it, I kept telling him he really needed to get back into it. Every time I would gasp or talk to the book (as I sometimes do. What? You don't?) he would ask what was going on. I would just shake my head at him and tell him he would have to read it himself. I'm a mean mom.
In this book, Lina and Doon had discovered a new city above ground and over 400 of the residents of Ember have come with them. These new people, the people of Sparks, are willing to help this large group of refugees, but are unsure what it will mean to their own livelihood. Sparks is a settlement that has struggled for years and is finally enjoying a season of prosperity, but how can they feed and house so many more people? A child reading this is unlikely to see the political parallels to our own world, but an adult would be hard-pressed not to see it. This is an immigration story in miniature. The people from Ember are escaping a dying world, they have skills that helped them in their previous home, but they are not good at many of the new jobs required of them in Sparks. The people of Sparks begin to feel resentful of all the help they are required to give. Tensions flare up on both sides with a leader from each group hoping to incite violence if that is what is necessary to gain the upper hand.
There are lots of "learning moments" in this book. I'll present you with just this one. When one character is angered by the way he is treated by a stranger, his companion explains it to him this way:
"You turned that crazy old guy into an enemy in less than two minutes. You did it. You've done it over and over, I've seen you: you approach people like an enemy and bam! they turn into one, whether they were to begin with or not."
On the brink of another war not unlike what destroyed the world in the first place, a solution must be found. There is much here to be learned about what causes war and what actions can possibly, hopefully prevent it. Forgive the spoiler, but I love the resolution at the end:
"The main thing is this: we will refuse to be each other's enemies. We will renounce violence, which is so easy to start but so hard to control. We will build a place where we can all live in peace. If we hold to that, everything is possible."
Idealistic? Of course, but isn't that what fiction is supposed to create? And yet if we can give our children a peek into what is possible, they just may turn it into reality in their lifetime. So far I am really enjoying this series. Read it and share it with your children. I think you'll both like it.