Ideas for Learners Promoting Literacy, Inquiry, and Meaningful Learning Experiences

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel


Book Summary

Matt Cruse may be the youngest worker on his luxury airship, but he knows he belongs there. In fact, he feels uncomfortable whenever he's on land visiting his family.  He's hoping for a promotion, but he doesn't have much time to sit or think, since he's busy rescuing hot air balloon pilots, fighting off pirates, and assisting a young lady as she researches an animal that scientists don't believe can exist. The airship is powered by an element called hydrium, which is covered by a special material which enables the craft to support massive amounts of weight.  The creatures Kate is studying are a fictional blend of large cats and large birds, and they prefer to spend their time aloft . . . much like Matt.

Airborn book cover

Book Review

This is an enjoyable steampunk adventure story with plenty of action.  While Matt, the main character, is the most richly drawn, Kate is also interesting because she is feminine and strong without apologizing for either quality. Matt's worries extend beyond each immediate crisis; he is still missing his father, who died in an accident on the same airship, and he cannot afford to attend the Academy which would give him the opportunity to become an airship captain one day.

Even if you aren't typically a fan of science fiction, this book offers compelling characterization and realistic fiction sorts of problems, in addition to the action components. It's a fun read with lots of appeal, and worthy of some meaningful discussion.

Topics and Themes for this book:

  • Steampunk
  • Perseverance
  • Hard Work
  • Believing in the Impossible
  • Ambition
  • Thinking on Your Feet
  • Pirates
  • Socio-economic Class Systems

Discussion Questions for this book:

The best discussion questions, of course, are generated by and contemplated by readers. These questions are designed to avoid major spoilers about the book, and to provide a starting point for teachers, parents, and student reading groups.


1) What is different about the way Kate and Matt handle the loss of loved ones? Which one of them seems stronger to you?

2) What kinds of injustice does Matt experience? What injustice does Kate experience? How do they respond differently to injustice?

3) What do Matt and Kate admire about each other? What are some qualities that make each of them uncomfortable with or disapproving of the other? Why didn’t the author create two characters that are in perfect synchronization in terms of the way they see the world?

4) Why is the Aurora so important to Matt?  If you were in his place, would you have taken the opportunity to transfer to a different ship in order to become a sailmaker sooner?  How comfortable would you be if you had his life?

5) The author includes a number of unique supporting characters, including Szpirglas, Miss Simpkins, and Mr. Vlad. Which of these (or a different supporting character) did you enjoy most in this book?

6) What does flying symbolize in this book?

7) There are several moments of crisis throughout this book. How well do you think the author managed to build suspense and keep the action moving throughout the story? Which element do you think is strongest—the pacing of the action, the characterization, the science fiction concepts, or the craftsmanship in the sentences?

8) There is a sense of formality in these characters that is different from many modern Western countries.  Matt is called “Mr. Cruse,” even by characters who know him well, and he is always careful to keep a professional level of courtesy with Kate. By contrast, many people in today’s society publish private details about their daily lives on the Internet. Do you think formality is restrictive and unhealthy, or is it appropriate?  How would this book be different if Matt were more casual and less professional?

9) Why does the author include the scene with Szpirglas’s son?

10) Which part of this story surprised you most?  How satisfied were you with the ending?

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