The City of Ember: The Graphic Novel



Adaptation of sci-fi favorite a little murky visually.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Set sometime in the future in an isolated underground city, The City of Ember shows what it might be like to survive in a place falling apart, as food and power become scarce and infrastructure breaks down. It also shows how some citizens can have the courage to imagine a better way of life.

Positive messages

As the lights flicker and food runs low, many of the citizens of Ember meekly accept that this is the way life has to be. The City of Ember tells the story of two children with the courage and the curiosity to seek salvation on their own.

Positive role models

While everyone else around them seems to accept Ember's failing infrastructure, Lina and Doon persevere in their quest for a better way of life, not only for themselves but for their loved ones. They are willing to stand up to the corrupt mayor, and they have the imagination to solve the puzzle in a mysterious document that hints at a way out of the darkness.

Violence & scariness

Although set in a darkened underground city, The City of Ember is not particularly violent or scary. A crowd throws garbage at the mayor. An elderly supporting character dies in her sleep. The children take a somewhat harrowing boat ride through darkened tunnels.

Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this graphic adaptation of The City of Ember captures only some of the power of Jeanne DuPrau's popular science-fiction novel about kids looking for a way out of an increasingly dark underground city. The plot hinges on the deciphering of a ripped-up document, and the puzzle simply is not visually interesting. There's one death by natural causes and a couple of mildly frightening episodes in darkened tunnels, but no objectionable language or content.

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What's the story?

The citizens of the underground city of Ember regard it as the only light in a dark world. But when the lights flicker and food begins to run low, few have the imagination to believe that there might be another way to live. Lina, a messager, and Doon, a pipeworks laborer, hope there might be a way to save themselves and the ones they love, and when they find a mysterious document that hints at a way out of Ember, they pursue every clue to its surprising conclusion.

Is it any good?


This graphic adaptation of THE CITY OF EMBER hits the high points of the popular science-fiction novel, but it fails to generate the narrative power of the original. With the tale set mostly in darkness, the illustrations are necessarily muted and even murky. Much of the plot revolves around clues hidden in a ripped-up document, and the porocess of deciphering them is not visually interesting. Fans of Jeanne DuPrau's novel might enjoy this version, but it seems unlikely to spur new readers toward the original book.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how the graphic novel adaptation of The Ember City compares with the original novel. Is it hard to make a dark underground city look interesting in drawn panels? 

  • The City of Ember is science fiction, but do you think the failing city depicted in it is at all realistic? Can you imagine what it would be like in your city if food and power were scarce?

  • Would you be able to set off for life in a new city with only a few possessions and only a vague sense of your destination?

Book details

Authors:Dallas Middaugh, Jeanne DuPrau
Illustrator:Niklas Asker
Genre:Science Fiction
Topics:Adventures, Friendship, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Random House
Publication date:September 25, 2012
Number of pages:144
Publisher's recommended age(s):8 - 17
Read aloud:8 - 12
Read alone:8 - 17
Available on:Paperback, Nook, Hardback, Kindle

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  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Kid, 9 years old April 29, 2014

The city of ember

I love it
What other families should know
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