Travel Man found something really neat while on Common Sense Media: City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau. It was fascinating from the start! The basics are this: a city that relies on electric lights for any and all lights (power is generated by a hydroelectric plant below ground) seems to be in its waning years. There were The Builders long ago who built the city, and some Believers hold on to them coming back to save the citizens of Ember. Two children make a discovery that convinces them there is a way out of the city, and they work to solve a puzzle and discover the way out.
It's incredibly discriptive, too. I was really, really impressed with the level of detail that seems to be all but missing in most literature for children.
But another thing that is really intriguing about the book is the lack of God and religion. No one talks about God, though the Believers think that The Builders will come back some day soon. However, as any good Catholic knows, God's law is written on our hearts, and we are created to know, love, and serve Him in this life so we can be happy with Him in the next. And this really shows throughout the book. There were opportunities to discuss this basic Catechism lesson, as well as conscience and guardian angels. Plus, there are online resources that made it fun to practice map reading and work on the puzzle with Lina and Doon (the protagonist children in the book).
Another interesting thing about the book is the citizens' limited knowledge. Sprinkled throughout the story are tidbits of the outside world. For example, Doon is an avid reader, and he learns some old phrases that no one remembers the origins of. "Hogwash" means "nonsense," but no one knows why. What is a hog, and why do you wash it, and why is that nonsense? The more of these tidbits you read about in the book, the more you understand the isolation of Ember's citizens.
What's really great is that it's the first of four books, and as soon as this one was over (Travel Man finished it last night), I was salivating for the next book*! Looks like we'll have to find a copy and start in on it ASAP.
*Link contains spoilers for City of Ember!!!