The Emerald Atlas
by John Stephens
With short, rainy days hanging around my house and spring break just around the corner, I keep wondering where we should go to get out of town. "Where" is a question my book clubs and I are pondering this semester, as well. Does setting, time and place, really matter to a novel? One of my groups of fifth graders decided today that it definitely does. As a matter of fact, they also determined that how a character gets from one place to another significantly impacts the pace of the story. I offer this wonderful time travel adventure, The Emerald Atlas, as a case in point (a book I have mentioned here before, but have just now read myself ).
Not unlike many young adventurers, the three siblings in the novel are considered orphans. I say considered, because the children believe their parents are alive. After a series of orphanages, each more dismal that the last, the children are finally sent to a small town on the edge of Lake Champlain that can only be accessed by a boat. As they approach the opposite shore, a fog and heaviness settles in creating a place that looks and feels hopeless. When Kate, Emma and Michael arrive to Cambridge Falls they find only a creepy grand home, a deserted town, a cook and a groundskeeper.
Before long, the children find a strange book. Michael, who is a novice photographer with a Polaroid camera, takes charge of the book. He slips a photograph into its blank pages, and he and his sisters find that they have traveled to the time of the photo. As you might guess, they find that in the past Cambridge Falls has many peculiarities. Each, as discovered, explains its current state. It is a tangled tale that finds the children traveling to new times and places at lightening speed. The chase for answers, that begins when Michael places the photo in the book, will lead the children to answers they didn't even have questions for.