Airborn, by Kenneth Oppel (lexile: 760; AR book level: 5.1; 368 pp)
Fifteen-year-old Matt Cruse is indeed “airborn” — in more ways than one. He is the cabin boy aboard the luxury airship Aurora, ferrying wealthy passengers around the world. In this alternative history set in the early 1900s, airplanes have never been invented, and instead the great airships rule the skies. And Matt was born aboard such an airship. It’s the only life he’s ever known, the place he feels the most alive.
One day while scanning the skies from the crow’s nest, Matt spies a battered balloon. He rescues its sole inhabitant, a dying man whose last words describe incredible, beautiful flying creatures he’s discovered. Matt dismisses these as hallucinations, until a year later when the Aurora takes aboard the wealthy Miss Kate de Vries, granddaughter of the dead balloonist. She has her grandfather’s notes and diary, and is determined to prove him right.
Their voyage is interrupted, though, when pirates attack the airship. Damaged, it is stranded on an uncharted island — which may be the home of the very creatures Kate is seeking, as well as the pirates’ hidden lair.
Some adventure fans may feel that Airborn starts a little slow, but the author does a good job of describing the background of the world in which it takes place and life aboard the airship. For those who like peril & danger, daring rescues, and heroic action, there is plenty (as well as budding romance).
Matt and Kate’s adventures continue in the next two volumes in the series:
Skybreaker (lexile:750; AR book level: 5.0; 369 pp)
Matt Cruse, now 16, is a student at the Paris Airship Academy, hoping to achieve his dream of one day becoming an airship captain. In this new adventure, he and Kate are on an aerial treasure hunt aboard a new high-altitude vessel called Skybreaker. They’re seeking the airship Hyperion, lost 40 years previously, a derelict floating at a chillingly high altitude and reputedly filled with a fortune in gold. What they end up finding is both more valuable and more dangerous than they could have imagined.
Starclimber (lexile: 700; AR book level: 4.9; 400 pp)
In this final title in the series, Matt and Kate are asked to join the crew of the first vessel to actually climb above the atmosphere into outer space. What starts as a simple maiden publicity voyage turns dangerous when strange creatures and mechanical breakdowns threaten their ability to return to Earth.