The Fifth Carnival of Children's Literature
Book Drive for Kids in Hollister, CA

Airborn: Kenneth Oppel

On my trip to the Caribbean, it seemed fitting to read a book about pirates. So I picked up a book that I had been meaning to read: Airborn by Kenneth Oppel. Airborn is in many ways a classic sea-faring swashbuckler of a novel, with a plucky cabin boy, a brave captain, ruthless pirates, terrifying storms, and tragic shipwrecks.

However, Airborn features a few quirks. First of all, the ships in the story are airships, like the Hindenburg. The protagonist's ship, the Aurora, is a luxury passenger vessel that uses a lighter-than-air gas to fly, instead of floating on the water. The story is basically an alternate reality, set in the early 1900s, exploring what might have been, if airships had become a primary mode of transportation. Airborn also features sightings of a species of winged cats, undiscovered mammals that live over the ocean, another alternate reality that fascinates the author.

I quite enjoyed this book. The cabin boy, Matt Cruse, is brave and resourceful. He gets dragged into trouble by a wealthy young passenger named Kate, who is herself quite plucky, especially for her historical time period. Matt and Kate's main adversary, a pirate captain named Szpirglas, is also a well-rounded and interesting character, not your cardboard cutout pirate by any means. The story is complex and action-filled, with conflicts arising from nature, pirates, and Matt's troubles with authority.

I think that this book will appeal to teen boys looking for adventure stories, and will have cross-over appeal to girls, too, because Kate is such a strong character. (In fact, I think that Kate qualifies for my Cool Girls list. I've been trying to be selective about this, and not add every female character that I run across that I like. But Kate is very brave, and independent almost to a fault. At one point, she drugs her companion/guardian, so that she can traipse through the woods on her own, to photograph an elusive and dangerous cloud cat.) I look forward to reading the sequel, Skybreaker. You can visit the Airborn website here.

Book: Airborn
Author: Kenneth Oppel
Publisher: HarperCollins
Original Publication Date: 2004
Pages: 544
Age Range: 12 and up

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.