Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: NY, 1997.
The Silverwing bats are preparing to migrate to their winter home in Hibernaculum from their summer nursery, a hollowed out, petrified tree. The owls are spoiling for war with the bats. A small infraction sparks a violent response by the owls, which precipitates the bat migration.
The runt of the newborn Silverwings, Shade, is separated from the colony during a storm and left for dead. Smart, curious, questioning, Shade continues the journey with the help of the Brightwing bat Marina, who was chased away from her own colony due to contact with humans. Prior to separation, Shade's mother had sung him a map of the directions to Hibernaculum, and so they follow. Each landmark is a new experience and must be seen to understand, especially the last. They face obstacles along the way, including rats and larger bats, but also an unexpected friend.
Shade is a great character. His curiosity is the cause of the initial owl invasion, but he soon learns that there have been other attacks, which may be the reason for his father's disappearance. Shade's curiosity about everything is the essence of the story. The journey is fully described. There is a wealth of experience. Shade grows from the runt to one capable and worthy through the course of events.
Oppel says in an end note that he liked the challenge of taking animals considered ugly or scary and making them appealing. He certainly succeeded in doing so here.
The book is full of adventure, including intellectual observation. It is fast paced and highly captivating. It is an excellent selection for young readers' first novels. There are 2 more in the series, plus the 1st of a related series, Darkwing.
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