Kate, Michael and Emma have been bounced around from orphanage to orphanage for 10 years. Even Kate, the oldest, barely remembers their parents, and they don’t even know their last name except that someone once dubbed it “P” (yes, just the letter). Kate only remembers one Christmas Eve her mother waking her and telling her to watch over her brother and sister and that someday they would all be together again.
Despite having distinctly unpleasant experiences in these orphanages, the siblings have stuck together and held out hope. They decline an offer of adoption because they insist their parents are alive, and they are sent far away to an unusual home in a strange place, where they are the only children in a large and empty house.
In this house, they discover a book that takes them 15 years into the past, when an evil but lovely witch is controlling the people of the whole town and has kidnapped all the children. This trip in time is only the beginning of a grand but frightening adventure in which they must battle the Countess and her armies of creatures so they can free the children and reunite their families. Most importantly, though, Kate, Michael and Emma are startled to find out more about themselves, their parents and why they were separated in the first place — and it all has to do with one very powerful, very sought-after book.
The Emerald Atlas is an entertaining tale sure to please middle-grade readers. I read it aloud with my fourth-grader, and she could hardly stand having to close the book on every chapter. The children are fun characters, as well, and there are a number of laugh-out-loud moments with things they say or how they relate to each other (distinctly how one would expect siblings to do at times). John Stephens has woven a tale of magic and adventure that should capture the interest of boys and girls alike.
Rated: Mild. There is some violence, and there are scary images of inhuman creatures. There is some mild language and a number of uses of taking the Lord’s name in vain. The author also uses the British expletive “bloody” fairly frequently, which may not bother Americans but could be an issue for readers across the pond.