cover image Silverwing


Kenneth Oppel. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, $17 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-689-81529-4

Oppel (Dead Water Zone) turns to animal fantasy with this mostly absorbing adventure story about a bat named Shade, the runt of the Silverwing colony. Although Shade is small for his age, he is curious and a bit obsessive, in some ways a Jonathan Livingston Seagull of the bat community. He longs to see the sun, strictly forbidden to the bats by the other animals; he even wishes to bring sunlight to his colony, as ""the greatest gift of all."" His obsession, he learns later, was shared by his missing father, who thought Humans would help bats return to the daylight. His actions cause their bitter enemies, the owls, to burn his colony's nesting site just before the bats migrate south. Shade is separated from the others during a storm, and the bulk of the narrative chronicles his attempts to rejoin them. Along the way, he meets and befriends Marina, a bat of another species, driven out by fear of the band that Humans have placed on her wing. Together they escape a squad of pigeons, marauding owls and carnivorous bats seeking to return south to the jungle, among other hazards. This epic journey is gripping, and details of bat life are inventively and convincingly imagined, though Shade's (and other bats') quasi-religious yearnings and struggles over tolerance, intellectual freedom and other abstractions get a little too much emphasis. As in Watership Down and other examples of this genre, the animals provide a conduit for their creator's social concerns. Ages 8-12. (Oct.)