Ever since her parents left them ten years ago, Kate has felt responsible for her younger brother and sister, Michael and Emma. Shuttled from one orphanage to the next, the children have never given up hope that their mother and father would someday return. At age fourteen, Kate has vague memories of them, but no recollection as to why they left.
Eventually the threesome arrive at an unlikely home for children, run by a Dr. Pym with the help of his eccentric housekeeper, Miss Sallow, and obliging hired hand, Abraham. Michael is the first to note that an orphanage with only three children is not really an orphanage at all. Since they have never eaten or slept as well, however, they set out to explore their new home. Immediately they sense there is something amiss with their surroundings. Why are there no children at all in the village of Cambridge Falls?
The discovery of a magical atlas in an underground study confirms their suspicions. Before they realize what is happening, Kate, Michael and Emma find themselves traveling through time to a point in the past when Cambridge Falls was controlled by a beautiful and evil witch. Manipulative and cruel, “the Countess” thinks nothing of tormenting the children of the village or of admitting that she is “having an affair” with a man whom she intends to betray. Her secretary also lacks compassion and even contemplates suicide. Torn between the desire to find their parents and the duty to help the people of Cambridge Falls, the three children move back and forth through time, each time uncovering another piece of information about their past.
Kate, Michael and Emma learn much about themselves, the importance of family and their love for each other as they fight to save the children of Cambridge Falls. Their desire to find their parents leads them to compromise with evil as well as face great danger. The dialogue of the children is humorous but colloquial. Time travel is often a tricky device in literature, and readers may find they need to reread passages to keep the order of events straight. Kate herself struggles to understand Dr. Pym’s motives and actions, never really sure what he knows each time they meet in the past. Hailed as a “new Narnia for the tween set” by the New York Times, The Emerald Atlas is the first of a fantasy trilogy. It does have some elements in common with Lewis’ series: a mysterious professor who lives in the country; portals to other places; young children who overcome sinister forces. That said, Stephens’ book lacks the allegorical depth that makes the Narnia books classics.
A former teacher, Jennifer Minicus is a full-time wife and mother living in Ridgewood, NJ.