City of Ember

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Lights shine in the city of Ember—but at the city limits the light ends, and darkness takes over. Out there in the Unknown Regions, the darkness goes on forever in all directions. Ember—so its people believe—is the only light in the dark world. And now the lights are going out...

Interview with Jeanne i te bret, Author of City of Ember

Where did you get the idea for The City of Ember?
I grew up in the 1950s, when many people were worried that there might be a nuclear war. Some of them were building bomb shelters in their back yards. I think this influenced my idea for Ember—a city built to protect the human race from a terrible threat. But I was also just interested in the idea of a city that had no light other than electricity. What would it be like to live in such darkness, and to know that light and food and supplies were all running out? And not to know about weather or trees or animals (except for a few rats and insects) or any other places? All this grabbed my imagination. And once I'd written The City of Ember, I hoped it would make people think about our world—about the sun and the moon, the forests and the ocean, the wind and the rain—and how precious it all is.

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Why was the city of Ember built?
You'll find out if you read the sequel, The People of Sparks.

How long did it take to write The City of Ember?
A long time. I wrote the first version many years ago. It wasn't very good, so I put it away. I got it out again later and rewrote it, and then I rewrote it two or three times more. Altogether, it probably took me about two years of actual writing to finish it.
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When do The City of Ember andThe People of Sparks take place—in the past or the future?
They take place in the future—a far future, which I hope we never get to.

The Prophet of Yonwood is a prequel. Why is it the third book in the series?
When I wrote The City of Ember, I didn't expect to be writing a sequel, much less a prequel. The idea of telling a story that led up to the building of the city didn't occur to me until quite a bit later.

There’s a movie of The City of Ember. Are there going to be movies of the other books?
I don’t know yet. If so, I’ll announce it on this website.

If you would like to contact Ms. DuPrau with questions about her books you can go to her website, click here.

Introduction & Chapter 1


Doon wants to trade jobs with Lina so he can work near the generator in Ember. What is a generator? What does it do in the city of Ember?

How Stuff Works

Chapter 3 Under Ember
Chapter 4 Something Lost, Nothing Found
Doon's Worm - What kind of worm was it?
      • Observations
      • On one of the leaves was a worm about an inch long. A few days before school ended, Doon had found the worm on the underside of a cabbage leaf he was slicing up for dinner. It was a pale soft green, velvety smooth all over, with tiny stubby legs.
      • "I've had it for five days now", said Doon. "It's twice as big as it was when I got it. It's eaten two square inches of cabbage leaf."
      • Pages 155-156
      • His mind was on other things. He was thinking of his green worm, which had been behaving oddly, refusing to eat and hanging from the side of its box with its chin tucked in.
      • Pages 197-198
      • He put the bug book back under his bed and pulled out the box where he kept the green worm. He drew back the scarf to check his captive one more time. Several days before, the worm had done a curious thing: it had wrapped itself up in a blanket of threads. Since then it had hung motionless from a bit of cabbage stem. Doon had been watching it carefully. Either it was dead, or it was undergoing the change that he'd read about in a library book but could hardly believe was true - the change from a crawling thing to a flying thing. So far, the bundled-up worm had shown no signs of life. But now he saw that it was wriggling. The whole wrapped-up bundle, which was shaped like a large vitamin pill, bent slightly from side to side, then was still, then bent back and forth again. Something was pushing at the top end of it, and in a moment the threads there were split apart and dark furry knob emerged. Doon watched, holding his breath. Next came tow hairlike legs, which clawed and plucked at the blanket. In a few minutes the whole creature was out. Egress, thought Doon with a smile. The creature's wings were crushed flat against its body at first, but soon they opened, and Doon saw what his green worm had become: a moth with light brown wings. He lifted the box and carried it to the window. He opened the window and held the box out into the air. The moth waved its feathery feelers and took a few steps along the wilted cabbage leaf. For several minutes, it stood still, its wings trembling slightly. Then it fluttered up into the air, rising higher and higher until it was just a pale spot against the dark sky.

        • Page 65 - But in Ember, there was no such thing as a light you could carry with you.
        • Do the people of Ember know nothing of candles, lanterns, flashlights, torches, etc.? Why or why not?

Chapter 5 On Night StreetChapter 6 The Box in the Closet

Things to think about

  • Was Mayor Cole correct in calling the people together after the 7 minute blackout?
  • What could Mayor Cole tell the people to help relieve their fears?

Why is the city running out of supplies and breaking down?

    • Things to Remember
      • Page 1 - "They must not leave the city for at least two hundred years," said the chief builder. "Or perhaps two hundred and twenty."
      • Page 35 - The result was that no one really knew anymore exactly what day of the week it was, or exactly how many years it had been since the building of the city - they called this the year 241, but it might have been 245 or 239 or 250.

Chapter 7 A Message Full of Holes

  • Coding
Use the websites below to try your hand at decoding.

  • Interactive Word Games
  • These tools help solve popular word puzzles.
  • Codes for Cubs and Scouts
  • This collection is ordered from "Beginner" codes, which Cubs can easily handle, then "Substitution" codes which are easy codes for Scouts, and then a few tougher puzzles...

  • Decoding Nazi Secrets
Morse Code Translator

Activity - Canned Fruits

Read this excerpt from Chapter 7 - page 101.

"Every room had something different," Granny told Lina. "Boxes of toothpaste in one room. Bottles of cooking oil. Bars of soap. Boxes of pills - there were twenty rooms just for vitamin pills. One room was stacked with hundreds of cans of fruit. There was something called pineapple, I remember that one especially."

"What was pineapple?" asked Lina.

"It was yellow and sweet," said Granny with a dreamy look in her eyes. "I had it four times before we ran out of it."

Have students discuss their favorite canned fruits. Imagine not having fruit. Have students tally the class's favorite canned fruits and make a bar graph with their findings.

Chapter 8 Explorations
Chapter 9 The Door in the Roped-Off Tunnel

Doon's Creatures

"Already he had found three new crawling creatures: a black beetle the size of a pinhead, a moth with furry wings, and best of all, a creature with a soft, shiny body and a small, spiral-patterned shell on its back."

Do you know what creature Doon has found?

Make your own creature from pipe cleaners, tissue paper, and movable eyes. Snails may be decorated with sequins and beads.

Chapter 10 Blue Sky and Goodbye
Chapter 11 Lizzie's Groceries


Lina was always drawing pictures of the city from her dreams. Draw your own "magical" city.

external image pineapple-icon.jpgPineapple

    • Earlier in the book Granny told Lina about a wonderful canned fruit called pineapple. Now Lina has the opportunity to taste this rare treat. Enjoy having some pineapple with these recipes.
    • Recipes with Pineapple


The foods in cans must have stayed well-preserved for over 200 years for the people of Ember to still be able to eat them. Is this possible?

How long to canned foods last?

Draw a city like Lina does.

Chapter 14 The Way Out

    • What will Lina and Doon find after traveling downstream in the boat?
    • What could have happened on Earth for the people to feel they must build a city in such an isolated area?

      • nuclear war
      • volcanic eruptions
      • earthquakes - tsunamis
      • hurricanes
      • mudslides
      • ice age
      • a comet collision
      • heavy flooding
      • asteroid impact, meteor showers, solar flares
      • disease
      • freak waves and unusually high tides
      • unusual animal behavior
      • crop failure, food shortage
      • drought, heat, water shortage
      • wildfires
    • Why did the Builders put the people of Ember in this location?

Chapter 15 A Desperate Run
Why do you think the author, Jeanne DuPrau, included the storyline of Doon finding a caterpillar which turned into a moth as part of this book?

The Differences Between Butterflies and Moths

Active during the day
Active at Night
Slender, smooth body
Very fat, hairy or furry appearing bodies
Club-like with a swollen tip
Usually bright colors
Drab colors
Resting Position
Fold wings over back
Rest with their wings spread out to their sides
Change inside a hardened shell called a chrysalis
Spins a cocoon around pupa for protection
Front and back wings are not connected
Front and back wings are connected

Chapter 16 The SingingChapter 17 Away

  • Corrupt Leaders
    The mayor is taking advantage of the citizens of Ember. Do we have corrupt leaders in our world today? Who are they? What have these corrupt leaders done?
    World's Ten Most Corrupt Leaders

Chapter 18 Where the River GoesChapter 19 A World of Light

    • The Wild Ride
      What is the author describing on page 241? - Columns of rock hung down from it, and columns of rock rose from the water, too, making long shadows that turned and mingled as the boat floated among them. They glimmered in the candlelight, pink and pale green and silver. Their strange lumpy shapes looked like something soft that had frozen - like towers of mashed potatoes, Lina thought, that had hardened to stone.

Chapter 20 The Last Message

    • Pages 267-268 - They got up and poked around, and soon they came across a plant whose branches were laden with the purple fruits, about the size of small beets, only softer. Doon picked one and cut it open with his knife. There was a stone inside. Red juice ran out over his hands. Cautiously, he touched his tongue to it. "Sweet," he said.
The End
    1. Does The City of Ember come to a close, a final ending?
    2. What do you think could happen next?
    3. What will Mrs. Murado do with the note from Lina?
    4. Will the people of Ember listen to Mrs. Murado if she tells them about the note?
    5. Will the people of Ember be able to live successfully on Earth with so many things they do not know?
    6. Do you think all the people on Earth have died?
    7. What type of catastrophe may have caused people to create such a city as Ember?

City of Ember Projects

A. Story Map: This project is artistic. Draw a six-panel scene of the most important parts of the story. Your drawing can be like a condensed comic strip of the book.

B. Come to Life: This report is one that lends itself to a group project. The group acts out one significant scene from the story. You must first make a script and then decide how to block your scene. Costumes and props will add to the production.

C. Writing a Letter to the Author: Write an email to Jeanne DuPrau. Tell her what you liked about the story and ask questions you have about the writing of the book and where she got her ideas. Check her website so you don't repeat any questions.

D. Literary Interview: This report is done with a partner. One student pretends to be a character in the story. The other student plays the role of a television or radio interviewer, providing the audience with the insights into a character’s personality and life. It is the responsibility of the partners to create meaningful questions and appropriate responses.

E. What else?: This report is the one of further choice. It gives you the opportunity to choose your own project. Present your idea to Mr. Guarnieri before beginning your work.


Each project will require a way to evaluate it. Please complete an assessment rubric you can find in the How We Learn blue binder for how to assess your work.