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The Green Ember: A Book Review

Posted by April Bumgardner on

“The Green Ember burns; the seed of the New World smolders. Healing is on the horizon, but a fire comes first. Bear the flame.”
-S. D. Smith in
The Green Ember, p. 364

Reading aloud with a beloved child in your life is just about one of the most enriching past times. It is single-handedly my favorite way to spend time with my kids, even though they can all read fluently on their own. Reading together cements our relationship and graces us with a shared vocabulary and with more robust imagery. For this reason I am pleased to introduce you to The Green Ember series by S. D. Smith. In The Green Ember and the subsequent books Ember Falls, and now in the newly published Ember Rising, Smith delivers a story worthy of sharing with middle grade readers and beyond.

Building on the Christian fantasy genre, Smith has created an inspiring world of anthropomorphized animals who are attempting to battle the evil in their own world as it spreads throughout the Great Wood, and beyond, into all Natalia. They are rabbits with swords. 

After wolves attack their village, set fire to their home, and take off with their parents and baby brother, heather and Picket begin a journey. It is a coming of age story in which Smith seemingly draws on his love for C. S. Lewis. They are seeking their family, but are likewise in search of a more peaceful world. After a previously unknown Uncle Wilfred and his adopted son Smalls rescue them from the wolves of Redeye Garlackson, they are sequestered in Cloud Mountain, a hidden community determined to preserve the old peace and order of the Great Wood. The rabbits live in true community as they prepare for eventual battle, and continue developing beautiful skills of creativity, artisanship and industry.

“Everywhere they looked, energetic work was underway.” p. 200 

Smith utilizes a great deal of Christian imagery throughout the book.

“Of course!” Emma said. “Now, they do other work like everyone else: gardening, cleaning, teaching - whatever’s needed. But all the crafts are honored here. We’re heralds of the Mended Wood. p. 155

We see similar ideas within the early church. 

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts…” Acts 2:44-46

Endearing characters are introduced, such as the slightly bumbling, clay-flinging Eefaw Potter, or the sweet, grandmotherly sage, Old Mrs. Weaver. They slowly begin to help heal and strengthen the aching hearts of Heather and Picket as they grow into the vision of Cloud Mountain. I won’t reveal what events transpire, but they are distressing to the rabbit siblings, and demonstrate how betrayal and true evil exist even in their fantasy world.

It is a glorious tale of fighting evil in unison. Heather and Picket are fully aware they are still in middle of their story. They are painfully unaware how it will all end, but the unity of Cloud Mountain has taught them of a greater hope. The Great Wood may have been razed by the destructive fire, but as they repeat triumphantly, 

“It shall not be so in the Mended Wood!”

Yes, Old Testament concepts of the remnant (Jeremiah 42:2, Ezra 9:8) resonate here as the rabbits huddle in their warrens awaiting eagerly the heir of King Jupiter to appear. We can see the imagery of a broken or a cursed world becoming renewed. 

He glanced at Smalls, then said in a strong, defiant voice, “It will not be so in the Mended Wood!” 

Then the group, all but Picket and Heather, each struck the air with a fist and called out in an echoing reply, “The Mended Wood!” p. 132

“…the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” Romans 8:21

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:5

Cloud Mountain is a proleptic community. Does that sound familiar, North Central friends? Proleptic is living into our future as if it were already a reality. It is living in assured anticipation of the future promised or hoped for.

Here we anticipate the Mended Wood, the Great Wood healed. Those painters are seeing what is not yet but we hope will be. They are really seeing, but it’s a different kind of sight. They anticipate the Mended Wood. So do all in this community, in our various ways…This is a place out of time. A window into the past and the future world. We are heralds, you see, my dear, saying what will surely come. And we prepare with all our might, to be ready when once again we are free.” p. 220

This is the inspiring image The Green Ember series provides us. Through Heather and Picket, Mrs. Weaver, Emma, the gentle doctor-in-training, Uncle Wilfred, Smalls and others, we see a group of rabbits wholly living out the vision of the Mended Wood even in desperate times. S. D. Smith draws on the beauty of Christ’s church, working together, as if they have already fully entered the Kingdom of Heaven. 

Our children need a vision of themselves as integral parts of God’s story. Our children deserve to know that they were not simply born into God’s people, but they can choose to be a vibrant part of healing the world. Not just in adulthood, but also now.

Picket took her hand and said, “It is what it is, but it is not what it shall be.”

You believe the stories about the mending?” she asked.

“We’re living these stories,” he said. “And it’s time you saw your part.”

-from Ember Rising, p. 229                                             

 GIVEAWAY: Comment with your favorite middle grade or young adult book by May 7, and enter  in a random drawing to win one of the following prizes:

1.  The Green Ember series, including
     The Green Ember
     Ember Falls
     Ember Rising

2.   A collection of Green Ember bookmarks and stickers


to leave comment

Lanny Duke Apr 27, 2018 12:58pm

Fish in A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt or Wonder by R.J. Palacio - themes on Choosing to Be Kind and Show Love and Compassion.

Rachel Moore Apr 29, 2018 8:11am

There are so many amongst which to choose, however I would pick Number the Stars or The Giver.

Marcy Bennett Apr 30, 2018 9:55pm

The Chronicles Of Narnia. That is my favorite. I first read them before my children were born and then read the books to them when they were young. I find myself every few years rereading them . My daughter now reads them to my grandchildren

April Bumgardner May 8, 2018 11:11pm

Congratulations to Lanny Duke for being the new owner of the Green Ember series! And Wonder IS a beautiful story.
Also congrats to Rachel Moore who receives a bookmark and sticker collection.
Those will be going out you shortly.