Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
The City of Ember Pre-Reading Activity:
Mock Assignment DayExplain that today is "Assignment Day" and students will get a job placement that will determine their future within the community. Distribute mock job assignments to students and give a talk about service to one's community. Ask students how they feel about being assigned to a profession. Ask them to speculate on what kind of world they are going to read about, where people are assigned jobs to work as messengers, laborers, electrician's helpers, and supply clerks.
The People of Sparks Pre-Reading Activity
What Is Community?Ask students to write an essay about community using the following writing prompt: What is the role of a community? Is the community responsible for taking care of every citizen? Ask students to share their writing responses and discuss how they would react if they were asked to give up vital resources for strangers being added to their community. Consider role-playing the idea of "survival of the fittest" to demonstrate what happens when a community's resources are strained, and individuals begin to rely on survival instincts.
Questions for Group Discussion
FamilyThe main characters of both novels have nontraditional family structures. Discuss with students how the main characters acclimate to their unconventional families in the towns of Ember and Sparks. How do their family relationships change from one book to the next? How does the absence of a mother affect both Doon and Lina? Both Doon and Lina are very responsible young people. How are their responsible dispositions related to their family roles?
FriendshipLina and Doon share a friendship in both novels, and Doon attempts a friendship with Tick in The People of Sparks. Lina and Doon recognize positive and negative qualities in their friendships, a key aspect of accepting someone as your friend. Ask students to keep a log of how Lina and Doon perceive their friendships and how their friendships wax and wane throughout both books. What personality traits do they admire in one another and in Tick? What qualities do they find troublesome in each other and in Tick? As an extension activity, ask students to write a paragraph describing what they admire about their best friends.
The Effects of WarBoth novels are set in a post apocalyptic world. Ember is a last refuge for the human race and Sparks is a post-disaster society starting over. Ask students to identify the lasting effects of war on both societies. What is the author's message to readers? Ask students to imagine a world where technology and abundant resources no longer exist. How would their lives be altered?
GreedHow does greed escalate to conflict? Ask students to trace incidents of greed by both townspeople and politicians as the characters progress from one novel to the next. Create a timeline that illustrates how townspeople allowed fear and greed to lead them into battle. What is the ultimate message about greed in both novels? What is the message about humankind and war? What is the author trying to say about corruption and power? Are the events of these novels a realistic reflection of human nature?
Community LeadershipIn small groups, ask students to discuss the role of community leadership in both novels and whether the leaders acted as good role models. Which characters provided true leadership for the towns? When times were tough, how did the leaders of Ember and Sparks provide for the citizens fairly?
Connecting to the Curriculum
ArtLina dreams of a world full of color and wonders what it might look like. She uses drawing as a way to express her dreams about faraway cities and unknown regions. She says that pictures can capture an idea or a place in ways language cannot. Ask students to sketch a place they have often dreamed about, like Lina does, and carefully select colors that reflect the mood and tone of the dream. Request that students accompany their artwork with a one-page explanatory essay.
Language ArtsAsk students to write a magazine article for a travel magazine that describes either Ember or Sparks as a travel destination. Cite lines from either text that describe what it's like to live in Ember or Sparks. Ask students to use elements of descriptive language like imagery, simile, and metaphor in their writing.
ScienceBoth novels hinge on electricity, whether it's a waning light source in The City of Ember or the need to reinvent electricity in The People of Sparks. Using the internet resources in this guide, have students research the fundamentals of electricity. How does it work? Who discovered it? What are the key scientific principles behind it? As an extension, encourage students to explore the Watt's on Your Mind Web site http://www.wattsnew.com/wattsnew3/castlegate/castlegate.html to learn about wasting electricity.
The idea of growing food and nurturing plants from seeds is paramount in both books. Have students grow food from seeds and research the science behind it, like photosynthesis and the life cycle of a plant. Helpful suggestions for lesson plans can be found in these Web sites:
Social Studies & GeographyWhen the citizens of Ember escape their dark society for a more promising land, they became refugees. Ask students to define the word refugee and research the global refugee crisis. Provide your students with a brief overview of the top 10 locations on the planet with the highest population of refugees, then ask them to each choose one, and give a three page overview of that location's current refugee situation as well as a brief history of its cause.
Ask students to use a map to pinpoint the 10 areas of the world with the most refugees: Afghanistan, Angola, Burma, Burundi, Congo-Kinshasa, Eritrea, Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Somalia, and Sudan. Have students consider why refugees flee their homelands and why some countries deny refugees access into their territories. This assignment is suitable for older grades.
EconomicsThe principles of supply and demand dictate what resources are available in the towns of Ember and Sparks. As Lina says in The City of Ember, "You can't divide a can of applesauce evenly among all the people in the city" (p. 153). Teach students about the concept of supply and demand and ask them to make a list of all the items in the novels that are in demand. Then ask students to think about the creative ways in which the novel's characters supply these items.
MusicThe townspeople of Ember have a "Song of the City" that describes the town and its people. Ask students to write a song, the lyrics of which reflect the spirit and the mission of their community and describe the kind of people who live there. Encourage students to use melodies that reflect the tone of the written descriptions.
Vocabulary / Use of Language
The language in The City of Ember is descriptive and thought provoking. Students should define the following words by using the context of the novel: resonant (p. 29), enmeshed (p. 55), moldering (p. 57), pungent (p. 59), and chortled (p.92).
The language in The People of Sparks is equally as challenging. Words for study include: tasseled (p.25), flummoxed (p.67), and thermodynamics (p. 110). To deepen vocabulary understanding, challenge students to use the words in a descriptive paragraph about an event or character from one of the novels.
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ABOUT THIS GUIDE
Prepared by Jennifer L. Hart, International Baccalaureate Coordinator, Thomas Jefferson High School, Richmond, Virginia.
Reproduced with the permission of the publisher, Random House.
See also, the Discussion Guide for City of Embers.
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Yearling. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
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