Thursday, July 25, 2019

Middle-Grade/Teen Review: Airborn

A long time ago in a land far, far away, my sons were still children, and our family loved to read middle-grade books together! One series that my son and I both enjoyed began with Silverwing: How One Small Bat Became a Noble Hero by Kenneth Oppel. My son went on to read the next two sequels, too (you can read my review at that link, plus other middle-grade recommendations). Ever since then, I have had great respect for Oppel but somehow missed many of his later releases as my kids grew up. I recently had the chance to rectify that and listened to Airborn by Kenneth Oppel on audio, thanks to a free download from SYNC last summer. This adventure novel won the Printz Honor in 2005 and an ALA Award for Notable Children's Recordings in 2007 for its full-cast audio production. This is one book that is well-worth going back to if you missed it when it was first released.

Matt Cruse is a cabin boy on the Aurora, a giant luxury airship that ferries wealthy passengers from place to place, traveling hundreds of feet above the ocean and powered by hydrium gas. Matt's father, who died in a terrible accident, also worked on board the Aurora, and Matt was born in an airship, so he feels more at home in the air than on land. In the crow's nest one night, Matt spots a drifting, falling ballon and helps to rescue the dying man inside, who describes beautiful, unheard-of creatures in the sky. On a later flight, he meets the balloonist's granddaughter, Kate, who carries her grandfather's journal and wants to verify his discoveries, though Matt is sure they were just the dreams of a dying man. The entire crew and passengers are at risk when the Aurora is intercepted by a pirate named Szpirglas and his crew. What follows is a rollicking adventure involving pirates, a deserted island, and a quest to find what might be either imaginary animals or one of the world's greatest discoveries.

This full-cast audio book brings this exciting journey to life. As you can probably tell from the description, this unique novel has elements of fantasy, science fiction, and steampunk but it also reads somewhat like an alternative history, as it is clearly set in a historical world similar to - yet slightly different than - ours. At its heart, though, it is an adventure, and the combination is engrossing, with a gripping story and plenty of action. Matt makes an excellent boy hero, and he and Kate are a good team of explorers. Airborn's plot has lots of twists and turns to keep young (and older!) listeners rapt with suspense. It seems to be the first in a series about Matt Cruse (followed by Starbreaker and Skyclimber), but this first novel is a complete story in itself. I thoroughly enjoyed this unique adventure that reminded me of Kenneth Oppel's considerable writing talents. This excellent audio appeals to all ages and would be a great choice for a family road trip!

544 pages, HarperCollins
Full Cast Audio

NOTE: The book is listed under Teen/YA, but it is definitely appropriate and appealing for middle-grade readers.

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Listen to a sample of the audio, which highlights Matt telling part of his story from the beginning of the book, with some of the other cast members appearing as well.

You can purchase Airborn from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
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Or you can order Airborn from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


  1. How fun to rediscover an old family favorite author!

    1. Yes, I miss those days of enjoying books with my kids!

  2. Okay... sounds fun. But I don't think I'm going to read this one, thanks.

  3. Anonymous12:43 PM

    this is a great book!