If you are a die hard Green Ember fan then you have probably heard by now that SD Smith’s new book, The Wreck and Rise of Whitson Mariner is now available for pre-order. If you’re still wondering what all the fuss is about or if you’re in the group of people that messaged me asking all kinds of questions about this series, or if you just really really dig the Green Ember, then this post is just for you! I’m answering 5 of the most common questions sent in to us about this series.
Q1: How did you find Green Ember and did you like it right away?
A couple of years ago my boys were getting hungrier and hungrier for a story they could really sink their teeth into. We had been reading aloud since they were tiny and they had developed a taste for a book they couldn’t quite name. Based off the explanation of their book craving, I narrowed it down to a book that called forth courage and creativity.
I looked through a few different books people had sent me, reading the first few pages of each to try and find something that would fit the bill. I noticed a book with rabbits on the cover, a gift from a friend, and I reached for it.
The very first page of The Green Ember grabbed my heart and never let go. There was something in it that I both recognized and yearned for at once. I put the other books back on the shelf and called the kids over for read aloud time.
We didn’t stop for two hours.
How could we? We were running away from wolves and being chased by raptors and standing in the middle of a beautiful guild hall with our eyes wide open and our hearts singing and our minds thinking, this is a picture of what we’ve been longing for in this life.
The boys were finally sent to bed after page 205 and I snuck the book back to my bed and finished reading it by myself in the early morning hours. C.S. Lewis has a famous quote about how a children’s story, only enjoyed by children, is not a good children’s story. I thought about that quote the moment I finished the last page and woke my husband to say, “THAT was a GREAT book.”
The next morning we skipped all our lessons so we could read together and by the end of the book my children were teary and cheering and so was I. This scene has played out with each and every book released in the series.
Q2: Were your kids ever scared of any of the The Green Ember books?
I have observed that my children crave danger and even darkness in their literature. They crave it because they know its real and they want someone to beat it. Whenever I open a book they always ask “Is there a bad guy? Who gets to fight him?” They want a story with a clear division between good and evil. They like to know who to root for. I love stories like that too. In fact, I go out of my way to find books willing to deal with darkness by brandishing truth, beauty and goodness in the face of evil. These books scare them well in the sense that they see something worth fighting, something definitely evil, and they are eager to imagine themselves in the battle against it.
My eldest shared, “This book gives me a craving to be a hero. Something about it makes me imagine that I can fight for good things and protect good things and make good things, even though I am just a kid right now. When bad stuff happens I can still do good things.”
Another son echoed, “Yeah, bad stuff happens in real life and it happens to kids. Parents dying and fires in houses and bad grown ups trying to ruin things outside before you have a chance to grow up. I like that this book talked about that and not in a little kid way.”
In other words, this is a book that treats children with respect. SD Smith delivers words with an honesty that is reassuring to children. Yes, evil is real. Yes, it is out there. Yes, it can be beaten.
It is this light in the midst of terrible darkness that draws children in and reminds them they have the power to penetrate the darkness with their own light.
Q3: As a mom, what are your favorite things about The Green Ember series?
I’ll share two things.
1) The good guys have flaws. This is important because it keeps the book from being boring and because the boys get to see a flesh and blood character they love and admire struggle the way they themselves do. My son gave me permission to share the following story to illustrate what I mean.
During the time of our first read through of The Green Ember, one of our boys was really struggling with anger. As we read aloud his heart was pierced so deeply that he broke down and wept. This story connected his imagination to the true meaning of anger and its effects. It brought a deep understanding none of our many conversations ever had. He felt anger, but he never understood what it really meant until his imagination saw it.
He connected with a character outside of himself and that is where he found words to define his own situation. He felt personally convicted and longed for the restoration everyone else in the book wanted for the character he identified with. This was one of the most powerful moments of his childhood and he speaks of it often.
2) No one is preaching.
One of the reasons my son was able to feel this remorse so keenly was because it was self realized. He was never told to feel bad by the author. My boys can sniff a “preachy book,” as they call it, pretty quickly. It is their least favorite kind of book and I don’t blame them one bit. The Green Ember is an adventure story bursting with virtue and wisdom, while being completely devoid of anything preachy, which is a dream come true for a young boy with skinned knees, a wooden sword and a wild imagination.
This past weekend I was speaking at the Wild + Free Franklin Conference about Family Culture in the home, I shared that, “Before I consider the spine of a book, I consider the spines of my children.” In other words, I look for books that build upon the men my boys are becoming. Reading the Green Ember is like pouring liquid courage down your child’s spine and igniting a fire for truth, goodness and beauty in their hearts. It is a magical expansion of the moral imagination. Its the kind of book I roll the welcome mat out for because it is exactly the sort of book I want at the table while we actively and intentionally build our family culture.
Q4 What do your kids love about The Green Ember series?
When I asked them this morning they listed many, many things, but this was one response from one boy that I could not resist sharing:
“I like The Green Ember books because SD Smith is not dead.”
After a burst of horrified laughter from me and many clarifying questions from his brothers, this is the summary of what he (and his brothers) said:
The boys love SD Smith’s writing because it makes them feel welcome. They understand his words. They understand the world he made. They feel like they can play there. It feels real and alive and good and scary in the best ways possible. They wait for months and months with building anticipation for new stories to be released and while they wait, they play out magnificent stories in the backyard with their swords and capes, imagining what they think will happen next.
Not only are they enjoying SD Smith’s writing and actively playing in the world he has created, but SD Smith himself has become a hero in their eyes. Because he is indeed, “not dead,” they are watching him actively bring stories right to their hearts. They can attend his talks at conferences and listen to podcasts and watch his Facebook videos. They see clips of his workshop, “The Forge” and know that this is the place where he goes to make stories. They are watching SD Smith’s courage to create meaning in this present world. He is living out, to the best of his ability, what the rabbits in his stories are looking for. My boys are cheering him on in this endeavor and because they feel that they belong in SD’s world, it feels like they are cheering themselves on too. SD Smith is the real life rabbit with a sword.
Q5: “MOM!!!! HAVE YOU READ THE WRECK AND RISE OF WHITSON MARINER!?!”
Yes, that was thrown at me in ALL CAPS at the breakfast table this morning. YES! I read it. Much to the horror of my children when they found out. “You read it?! Without us?!”
I am a traitor, a very happy traitor. I read it three times and I can not wait to read it aloud to my boys.
This is exactly the kind of creative work I want my boys engaging with to make meaning of the world around them. This is a book that will sharpen their minds, further define their appetites, add to their chests, expand their moral imaginations and leave them looking for chances to bring something good to the world.
I wish I was the sort of person who could wait till Christmas and leave this wonderful new book wrapped and waiting under the tree but the truth is, we’ll probably read the whole thing the day it comes in. I won’t do laundry and I won’t cook dinner. We’ll order pizza and read and read and read together. I’m ok with that. It’ll just be one more beautiful gift the world of SD Smith has brought us.