Grade 3 - 7 / Ages 8 - 12.
Note: Book was reviewed from page proofs.
All around him in the crisp autumn night, he could hear and see other Silverwings streaking through the forest, hunting. Shade stretched his wings luxuriously, only wishing they were longer, more powerful. For a moment he closed his eyes, sailing by sound alone, feeling the air caress the fur on his face and stomach.
His ears pricked suddenly. It was the telltale drumming of a tiger moth in flight. He tilted his right wing and wheeled, locking onto his prey. If he could just catch one . . . everyone knew how hard they were to catch, and then he'd have a story of his own to tell back at Tree Haven at sunrise.
Readers familiar with Ken Oppel's work will recognize him as an author of picture books, first chapter books and YA novels, but, with Silverwing, he moves into a new genre, the talking animal fantasy. And his choice of central creature is most unusual - bats, and, in particular, Silverwing bats. "Cuddly" and "attractive" are not likely the first two words that readers would associate with these denizens of the night, but, after vicariously participating in the quest of Shade, runt of the year's newborns, as he struggles to rejoin his colony in their winter migration, adoring readers will be clamouring for a sequel that the book's open ending suggests is a possibility.
Oppel populates his novel with a delightful cast of characters, including Ariel, Shade's loving mother; Marina, his travelling companion; Chinook, the bullying newborn; Frieda, a mystical colony elder; and a truly evil villain, Goth, a huge flesh-eating bat. In addition to undertaking his physical journey, Shade unknowingly begins a moral or spiritual quest when he challenges the colony's "values" by daring to stay out to see the rising sun, an act which violates the "law" which keeps bats safe from nocturnal birds, such as owls. Another enticing element Oppel introduces is the question of the meaning of the metal rings which some bats have on their forearms. Readers will quickly discover that they cannot simply dismiss the bands as the work of inquisitive scientists. Finally, the expression, "blind as a bat," is wonderfully contradicted as Oppel recreates the bats' echo vision "sound" world.
In addition to being a fine individual read, Silverwing's dramatic structure makes it an excellent choice as a classroom read-aloud.
Dave Jenkinson teaches children's and adolescent literature courses at the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba.
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Copyright © 1997 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR THIS ISSUE - APRIL 11, 1997.
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