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A Book You Must Read: The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

March 4, 2011

April 5th is the release date of a highly anticipated new book, The Emerald Atlas, the first title in a new middle grade fantasy series that Erin mentioned in her post earlier this week.  John Stephens is a former television screen writer turned children’s book author who is making quite a stir in the book world.   He recently completed a 5-city pre-publication tour and we wanted to share some of our experiences as well as a ton of rave reviews from our customers, friends and a kid reader….

Deanna shares a bit about her Seattle pre-pub dinner:

Seattle area booksellers and librarians always love it when a publisher takes them to a fancy restaurant. But add to that a book and author they can truly get behind and it’s a night to remember! John Stephens was a gentleman, a great conversationalist and best of all, has written a fantastic book. The general consensus seems to be that Emerald Atlas is the start of a best-selling series. Orphan siblings Kate, Michael and Emma are brought to a world that has been called a cross between Narnia and Middle Earth. Gatekeepers can put in the hands of younger kids without fear of overly mature themes, but adults and older kids can also read this without feeling it’s been oversimplified.


Top row: Tegan Tigani, Queen Anne Ave Books; Caitlin Baker, University Books; Rene Holderman, Rene Kirkpatrick & Judy Hobbs, Third Place Books; Casey Stryer, Elliott Bay Books.

Tim recaps his great night with John in Chicago:

The best word to describe the Chicago pre-pub dinner with John Stephens is: “exhilarating”. There was so much “buzz” in the room about EMERALD ATLAS (and I didn’t talk to a single person who hadn’t read it and loved it) that it put everyone in a celebratory mood.

John is so personable and self-effacing that he immediately connected with everyone. He’s also (not surprisingly) a delightful storyteller and talked much his past experience as a screenwriter and what inspired to write the novel.

We had an excellent turnout – 26 attendees and nice mix of indie booksellers, mass merch buyers (Levy Home Entertainment), librarians and university educators.

Earlier in the day, Anderson Bookshop in Naperville arranged for John to speak to mainly 5th graders at a couple of local elementary schools. One group was approx. 140 students and the talk had to be held on the library. I read some of the students’ comment cards about EA and these comments were typical – “this book is amazing”, “I thought this book was the best ever”, “it’s really great…no offense to J.K. Rowling, but his book is better”…

And Dandy gives us a glimpse of her night in Portland:

I completely agree with the other reps, the excitement for this book was palpable. John was as charming as everyone has said.  Patty, the event person from Copperfield’s said: “Hey, thanks again for last night. I had a great time – you had a lovely assortment of people and an author who not only can write but can sincerely charm a room full of people. Good food, great conversation – count us in, any time!”

And here are just a few of the rave reviews we’ve been getting from readers all over the country:

Three children, taken from their home on a cold snowy night, bounce from orphanage to orphanage. Kate, the oldest, vaguely remembers that sad moment and she is forever trying to figure out what really happened. When they end up at Dr. Pym’s institution in Cambridge Falls, they realize that their world is not all that it appears to be. Michael discovers a mysterious dungeon room, opening that door sends our three heros?? into a magical world. All these kids want to do is find their family, but they have to save the world too. This book is an example of what is best about middle readers, interesting characters, compelling story and fun to read!
– Margaret Brennan Neville, King’s English


When’s the next one coming? Now? Can I have it now? I really, really want more as quickly as possible. Now. Now would be really very excellent. Pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease.
Okay. My inner ten-year-old has had her say. Now I can pretend to be grown-up and say smart-ish things about this book. Who am I kidding? This is not a book that one should be grown-up or smart or analytical about. Yes, yes, there are lots of clever allusions and uses of myth. But, that’s not what’s going to get it into kids’ hands. The most important thing to be said about this book is that it’s FUN. It’s a wonderful fantasy adventure that’s part ‘Harry Potter’, part Lemony Snicket, and part ‘Lord of the Rings’. It’s got great characters (I have a little crush on Gabriel and I think Emma is awesome), a clever plot, time travel, dwarves, a wonderfully creepy villain, and scary monsters. Someone will probably try to make it into a movie, which would be too bad. This is a book that should be read and allowed to come to life on the movie screen in your head. It’s the sort of book that would make an excellent read-aloud, but is also meant for selfishly reading alone in bed at night.
– Billie Bloebaum, Powell’s @ PDX


Finally finished Emerald Atlas, and I loved it!! I thought it was a great fast-paced book, that completely absorbed me from the beginning. The author creates amazing characters that absolutely left me wanting for more. Can’t wait for the next one to come out. I’ve already started telling people about it.
– Stephanie Picard-Colomb, Copperfield’s


Fantastic! John Shephens puts a spark into old themes. It the first book in” Books of Beginning “trilogy, the reader will want more instantly. If the next two books are as great as this one, it will be sad when the story ends. Hopefully, more books will come from this author.
– Sharon Graves of Through the Looking Glass Bookstore in Glenwood, CO


This debut fantasy quest novel is one I recommend easily and often. The characters are fully drawn and the three children are very believable. You may shed a tear, you will often chuckle, and you will definitely enjoy all the action. Can’t wait for books 2 and 3 in this series for middle readers.
– Gail Wetta, Anderson’s Bookshops NP


The forthcoming book I have been most enthusiastically recommending to fellow booksellers lately is John Stephens’ The Emerald Atlas. It’s a novel that comfortingly adheres to many middle fiction fantasy conventions: Three orphaned siblings, a wise old magician, a beautiful and evil witch. We meet dwarves that seem to have waddled straight out of Tolkien, and awful beings called “Screechers” that owe something to Tolkien’s Nine Riders. But Stephens’ wise and confident authorial voice is such that instead of feeling bored, as if I’d read all this before, I rushed to the end, thinking, “how did I miss this classic story when I was growing up?” Time travel elements help to distinguish this book as the author’s own, as does his humor. (The end-of-the-line orphanage the children find themselves in as the tale opens is “The Edgar Allan Poe Home for Hopeless and Incorrigible Orphans.”) Character is also one of Stephens’ strengths as a writer, and his affection for his sibling protagonists is obvious. The eldest child, Kate, is old before her time, weighted with the burden of caring for her younger siblings. Bookish Michael is both steady and mischievous, while the youngest, firebrand Emma, has learned that her life has one rule: “when you stopped fighting, you were finished.” Fans of Narnia and Middle Earth will delight in this kindred volume, greet it as a long-lost cousin, and impatiently wait for the necessary sequel. I still fondly remember the small town librarian who led me to the Narnia books. It’s gratifying and humbling to think that in introducing young readers to The Emerald Atlas I might be leading them to a lifelong favorite.
– Robert McDonald, The Book Stall at Chestnut Court, Winnetka, IL


This is an awesome fantasy/adventure, with strong characters, excellent plotting and loads of action. For many books, I feel that the final battle scene is rushed, but in this case, it was extremely satisfying. The ending was drawn out brilliantly, with lots of tension and I loved how the three main characters had separate, equally important story threads. And even though this is the first in a series of books, the ending felt complete. It’s an excellent read and should have a long shelf life.
– Mark Adam, Buyer at Book Fairs of Covina, CA


LOOKING AHEAD: The Emerald Atlas by John StephensFebruary 7th, 2011 Hold on to your hats, middle-grade fantasy fans: 2011 is here. Brandon Mull’s back with a new series; Catherine Fisher’s got a summer series coming over from England; and you’re about to meet a guy named John Stephens.

I don’t use the word (okay, fake word) unputdownable very often, but I suspect you might hear it a lot over the next few reviews because I was really, really lucky with the last three or four books I read. THE EMERALD ATLAS was – you guessed it – unputdownable….

-Melissa Posten, Pudd’nHead Books, Webster Groves, MO

Click here to read the rest of Melissa’s terrific review on her blog

This is going to be huge, kids! Put it on your list of books to buy, get a first edition, as soon as you can. It is the story of three children, they might be orphans, who are sure their parents will be back for them. In the final orphanage, the last and worst orphanage that will take them, they embark on a journey and quest that will take them back and forth in time, in and out of people’s lives, searching always for home and family. It is a great story, filled with adventure and danger, a good deal of humor, smart and brave children, horrible, evil adults, and magic, magic everywhere. It feels a little like Narnia, has good language and pacing, great story for both genders…I LOVED it! I can’t wait for the next one!
–Rene Kirkpatrick from Third Place Books

 And finally, a great review from a young reader who hangs at Blue Willow in Houston:

I thought The Emerald Atlas was a great book. I really liked the plot of the story and how it was set up. There were some unexpected twists and turns in this book. There was alot of magic, adventure, and mystery in this book.

– Travis, age 11. 

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Angela K Sherrill permalink
    March 4, 2011 11:40 am

    Yay for John Stephens! Yay for The Emerald Atlas!

  2. March 4, 2011 12:04 pm

    I just read this and LOVED it!! It will be an easy sell to kids of all ages. Good stuff!

  3. lilly permalink
    May 21, 2011 8:21 am

    I can’t wait till the next books come out! I could not put this book down all night long. I finally finished it after two days! I recommended it to one of my best friends and she says she can’t wait to read it. All day yesterday she tried to steal it out of my hands because I could not put the book down!! One of the things that got me attached to this was that it was very suspicious and tense. The books that I read have to have like adventure or mystery in them other wise it’s not worth reading, but this one totally was!!!


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