Anyone who has known me for any considerable amount of time knows that I am a lover of stories. I am a voracious reader and I tend to agree with Erasmus in that “when I get a little money I buy books; if any is left, I buy food and clothes.” I have been known to hunt down out-of-print titles and stalk eBay for hard to find editions for months on end. I have broken the wheels on suitcases under the weight of my bounty from library sales. If it seems to outsiders like I am on a mission, it is because I am.
I believe in the power of stories. I believe that stories form us by nourishing our souls and ordering what our hearts love. I believe that stories provide the fertile soil in which Truth, Goodness, and Beauty can take root in our hearts and eventually grow into Wisdom and Virtue. I am drawn to stories that kindle the moral imagination and echo to us the whispers of the Great Storyteller. And when I find these kinds of stories, I want to shout it from the rooftops. That is why, over the past few podcasts, articles, and speaking events, you may have noticed me gush once or twice (or a dozen times) over my love for The Green Ember by S.D. Smith.
The Green Ember has been called “a new story with an old soul,” and I believe that is a fitting description. Although it was Smith’s first novel, recently published in 2014, it seems as if it could have been written generations ago. It is full of the adventure, heroism, mystery, and virtue that distinguishes stories of old, yet it resonates with readers of all ages today.
It seems strange at first to think that a story about anthropomorphic rabbits would be as beloved by adults as it is by the children for whom it is written. But it’s true. After the first few chapters, I was absolutely captivated by Heather and Picket and their adventure and peril. Perhaps that is because the character development is superb and the plot is so well thought out. It truly is a good story in the old-fashioned sense. But what enthralled me the most, I think, is the way that I heard whispers of timeless truth and wisdom throughout its pages.
Heather and Picket’s world comes undone at the beginning of the book, and they get caught up in the danger and calamity of the wider world. They realize how their individual lives are very much linked to the bigger story going on around them. As they come to terms with this discovery and begin the journey to become who they truly are, they are faced with choices common to all of us. We are all part of a bigger story and, like Heather and Picket, we must decide if we will choose courage or fear, virtue or ease. Although it is not an overtly Christian book per se, I was surprised at how deeply it made me consider how I spend my days and how I am living out the hope in Christ that I confess. It is one of the few books that profoundly changed me, giving me a vision for how I can bring God’s Kingdom to bear on earth today. It is a story that resonates deeply in the soul, beautifully echoing the Truth that “it is what it is, but it is not what it shall be.”.
Don’t be mistaken; these characters are not perfect. They display the same flaws that many of us see in ourselves. There is selfishness, cowardice, and even betrayal. There is uncertainty and true risk. There is very real pain. But nothing is gratuitous and it is the peril and pain that shape the characters into who they were born to be.
The Green Ember is written for middle grades, but it has been enjoyed immensely as a read-aloud by our entire family. My six-year-old, my husband, and I all rated it as one of our very favorite books of 2015. Because of the anthropomorphized animals and Christian themes that permeate the story, it has been compared to C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, and I would say that it is also of similar level and intensity, particularly The Last Battle. This is a book that deeply nourishes the moral imagination and kingdom longing in our children, and it deserves to have a permanent place on the shelf of every family library. (Or collect the audiobook, which is beautifully and richly narrated by Joel Clarkson!)
The prequel to The Green Ember, called The Black Star of Kingston, and the first in a series of sequels to The Green Ember, entitled Ember Falls, are also superb. We will have reviews of each of those books coming soon!
And GREAT NEWS! S.D. Smith has generously offered to give away a complete set of The Green Ember series to one of our readers! Subscribe to the Storyformed blog (at the bottom of our home page) and you will be entered to win a story pack that includes The Green Ember, The Black Star of Kingston, and Ember Falls, as well as some fun stickers! (Giveaway closes at 10PM EST on Saturday, May 27, 2017.)