The Emerald Atlas: The Books of Beginning, Book 1

Book review by
Patricia Tauzer, Common Sense Media
The Emerald Atlas: The Books of Beginning, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Thrilling, chilling time travel for mid-grade fantasy fans.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 8 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Definitely will inspire imagination, vocabulary building, and reading.  Could lead to some good discussions about violence -- and what's acceptable in books marketed to kids.

Positive Messages

Good beats out evil as people help one another to overcome malevolent forces and heroes risk their lives for others. Loyalty between brothers and sisters, and among friends, pays off.

Positive Role Models & Representations

While Emma can be rude, and always seems to be bickering with Michael, Kate is kind and responsible.  And despite their flaws, the kids are loyal to each other. They work together, help others -- and learn to forgive one another. And they are working to save the world, after all.  


Fantasy violence, including bloody battles and gory injuries. Ravenous wolves chase down anyone who walks through the woods at night, slithering monsters do the evil witch's bidding, and the witch locks children away from their parents, threatening to send them over a waterfall to their deaths. Bombs are set to destroy a dam, and Emma nearly dies when she is shot with a poisoned arrow, and more.  

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Not glamorized: The evil countessa drinks vodka and wine on occasion. The worthless false-king of the dwarfs is a glutton and a drunkard, and encourages that lifestyle among his followers. The wizard smokes cigars, and the enveloping smoke has a magical influence.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Emerald Atlas is the first in the Books of Beginning fantasy trilogy. It has a great deal of fantasy violence, and the three main characters are endangered by various monsters and other nasty, evil characters, including a powerful, witchy countess. There's some gore and graphic depictions, though after a few close battles, good triumphs over evil. Younger readers may find the book a bit too intense, and be confused by the time-travelling sequences. Kids who can handle it will find a lot to like in the three protagonists, loyal siblings who grapple with important questions of loyalty, honesty, hard choices, and, of course, good and evil. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byclaudeteacher July 1, 2011

Pretty Good

My nephew bought the book and gave it to me to read after he was finished. I found it interesting and fun. A little different from other young adult novels I... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written bysarakaren20 March 26, 2016

One of my favorite books!!!

I absolutely LOVE this book. It has a little violence in it, but it's great how there isn't any sex, drugs, or cursing in it. The emerald atlas is cle... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byForever a Reader234 May 2, 2020

One of the Best Books Ever!!!

This book was absolutely brilliant!!! The characters were great and I was holding my breath in anticipation practically forever!! The writing is witty and the s... Continue reading

What's the story?

Swept away to an orphanage at an early age, three siblings -- Kate, Michael, and Emma -- move from one dismal institution to next, each one worse than the one before. Kate, the eldest, remembers promising her mother to protect the younger two: misfit Michael, a bookworm fascinated by magic, photography, and dwarfs, and feisty Emma, who lacks patience for anyone. When they discover the Emerald Atlas, one of three magical books, they begin to time travel, searching for their parents in a fantastical world that involves wizardry, a wicked countess with magical powers, dwarfs, monsters, and just about anything else you can imagine. Together, they begin to learn why they were put in such distasteful and dangerous institutions in the first place -- and have an adventure that forces them to grow up, depend on each other, and make choices that change history.

Is it any good?

Kids ready to delve into time-travelling fantasy will love this fun, fast-paced book. Intriguing and suspenseful, the story is packed with strong characters, sophisticated language, and adventures that force the heroes to grapple with questions of loyalty, honesty, hard choices and, of course, good and evil.  Here, author John Stephens uses some familiar fantasy elements -- innocent orphans, an evil witch, a struggle over three valuable books of wisdom -- to pull together a creative story that will have kids breathlessly waiting for the next installment.  Younger readers may be confused by the time-travelling sequences, and the violence may be a little too much for them, but for kids who are mature enough, this is a thrilling ride.


Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about fantasy books. Why are series like this one so popular right now? What does this book have in common with other fantasy novels you've read? How is it different? 

  • What did you think about the cruelty and violence of the evil characters in this book? Or the ferocious battles? Does the fantasy setting make the violence any less intense to read about? 

Book details

  • Author: John Stephens
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Topics: Magic and Fantasy
  • Book type: Fiction
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • Publication date: April 5, 2011
  • Publisher's recommended age(s): 9 - 14
  • Number of pages: 417
  • Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
  • Last updated: August 27, 2019

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy

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