S. D. & J. D. Smith

In 2014, S. D. Smith released the first Green Ember book to rave reviews. Over the years, the story of Heather and Picket has grown into an entire world of rabbits with swords spanning ten books. Sam and his books are favorites of ours because there is a sincerity in Sam’s writing that makes the reader feel like they too could be the heroes of their own stories. Like the greats that Sam loves (Tolkien, Lewis, etc.), he tells stories worth knowing. Stories that inform the moral imagination and continue to speak to the reader long after the book has been returned to the shelf.

Jack Zulu and the Waylander’s Key

For years, J. D. Smith (Sam’s son Josiah) has been helping his dad with the Green Ember books. In 2022, the duo released a new book for a new series: Jack Zulu and the Waylander’s Key. Check out our interview with them and our review of this exciting new story here.

The Green Ember Books

Because there are so many books, people often ask where to begin and what order to read them in. Sam recommends publication order.

  1. The Green Ember
  2. The Black Star of Kingston (Tales of Old Natalia 1)
  3. Ember Falls: The Green Ember Book II
  4. The Last Archer: Green Ember Archer 1
  5. Ember Rising: The Green Ember Book III
  6. The Wreck and Rise of Whitson Mariner (Tales of Old Natalia 2)
  7. The First Fowler: Green Ember Archer 2
  8. Ember’s End: The Green Ember Book IV
  9. The Archer’s Cup: Green Ember Archer 3
  10. Prince Lander and the Dragon War (Tales of Old Natalia 3)

A frequent question is if this is one series or three. Both. It is one world that fits together in a specific way. As of now, it has four main books, three prequels, and three books in a series which enhances the main books. You can get more clarity here.

About the Series

I (Sara) discovered this book series very early in its release. Friends recommended the first book, The Green Ember, and I decided to look into the author, S. D. Smith before I did much reading. In my research, I discovered this video, and my heart beat a little faster. As a then-young mom, I was feeling very overwhelmed by the Captain Underpants culture that was beating in on us from every side. I tried so many modern authors, finding that I might like one book and then be scandalized by another from the same pen. I was frustrated with modern literature and was almost ready to give up on it entirely. 

“We want to serve you as you seek to foster holy imagination in your kids. Why? Because we want to anticipate the Kingdom of God. We want to be people who are looking forward to the kingdom coming and that impacting our family life, our cultural life, our community life, our church life now. We want to be kingdom people now, longing for the kingdom to come. And we want you to feel like you are not alone. We are on your side.”

S. D. Smith, StoryWarren About Video

As I dug deeper and read this article by Sam wherein he explains who he is, what he loves, and what he is trying to do with his writing, I genuinely felt encouraged. Like his comments in the video about The Lord of the Rings, I too felt like I was hearing the horns of Rohan, and I knew that I had found an ally. 

Years ago I wrote a starry-eyed and woefully insufficient review of The Green Ember. I loved these books, but because of how dear they were becoming to me, I was tongue-tied about how to recommend them. I read the first two books (The Green Ember and The Blackstar of Kingston) aloud to my babies and wept for joy. These books were noble, beautiful, funny, and genuinely delightful. We laughed together, we were encouraged together, and we had such good discussion about, not only the story, but the values that informed it. 

In the years since, I have read aloud all of the Green Ember books to my children. These stories became an essential part of our family culture. Every child has a complete set, we have all of the audios, and we have many of them on kindle. Heather, Emma, Smalls, Picket, Jo, and their many friends and allies have become key allies in our imaginations. In fact, they have become so dear to us that we have named two of our dogs for them. 

I am often asked why we love these books so much. 

It is simple. These beautifully written new stories have exciting old souls. Sam says that right on his website, and it is absolutely true. These new stories feel very relevant to a modern reader but they are told with timeless old values. Like Aslan in Narnia, they are not “safe,” but they are good. These stories bruise our hearts and raise our blood pressure when appropriate, but they also cause us to triumphantly cry out with joy. They give the reader reasons to feel invested, and then they reward that investment with all of the feelings that a great story causes a reader to feel. The adult role models are really good (and there are many of them), the siblings love each other, the limited romance is chaste, the war scenes are graceful but substantial, and the story is speaking directly to us about things that are very real. This is excellent food for the moral imagination. 

Who are these stories best suited to?

Families. These stories are exciting enough for little ones to love, and complex enough for teens and adults to appreciate. Righteous war is a central theme throughout, so there is some darkness and violence that must happen. Treated as a family read-aloud, all of the themes can be discussed as a family, and children can be strengthened by what they encounter. The audiobooks are very well done and could be used on car rides or during a family puzzle if no one is able to do the reading aloud. 

If not shared as a family, then I recommend that parents read the reviews of each book here so they can ascertain whether or not their readers are ready for them. They do darken as they progress, but Sam loves our readers and never seeks to scandalize. The violence, deaths, and evil that is described is carefully done. Parents of very young readers or very sensitive readers may wish to preview the books ahead of time. These are no darker than the Wingfeather books or the Ranger’s Apprentice books. They are much less dark than something like Harry Potter or Percy Jackson.

Modified Reading Order for Sensitive Readers

We often get questions about when/how to read The Green Ember books by S. D. Smith: Author of The Green Ember with littles/sensitive readers. The first story is not very dark, but it doesn’t take long for Ember Falls to hit us hard with sadness. Ember Rising, in my opinion, is the darkest (and in some ways most beautiful and compelling) book of the series. So what do you do if you have sensitive readers who aren’t ready for the darkness but who want more helpings of The Green Ember to feast on?

I had the advantage that we were reading these almost from the very beginning. While they do darken and my kids were young, we had three things working in our favor:

1. I read all of them aloud to my babies so I could moderate how much we were taking in at a time.

2. It took years for them to be published, so we had time to re-read and re-read many times which helped the kids to be ready for whatever happened next.

3. Again, it took years for them to come out, so we couldn’t read ahead. My kids had a chance to grow up with the books. But what about right now?

What do you do, right now?

1. Read Aloud

2. Get the audio so that your readers can re-read many times

3. Not read in publication order. I nearly always read in publication order (looking at you, Narnia). And I would never go against an author’s recommendation. In this case, however, Sam wrote some books out of chronological order and there is a unique opportunity to keep reading while you wait for sensitive readers to be ready for the harder books.

If you need this modified schedule, here is my recommendation:

  1. The Green Ember
  2. The Black Star of Kingston (Tales of Old Natalia 1)
  3. The Last Archer: Green Ember Archer 1
  4. The Wreck and Rise of Whitson Mariner (Tales of Old Natalia 2)
  5. The First Fowler: Green Ember Archer 2

I would be cautious about reading Prince Lander with sensitive readers. It feels a little like Ember Rising.