Kenneth Oppel

Bullfrog Founders Club

A ghost airship is home to the blueprints for an early fuel cell oppel_interviewtechnology that promises eternal, clean transportation fuel for human civilization. Determined to preserve its industrial empire and the market for its polluting Aruba Fuel, the Aruba consortium wants to prevent the discovery of the fuel cell technology.

The allegory for contemporary energy production appears in Skybreaker, an action-packed adventure novel by Kenneth Oppel, award-winning Canadian writer of youth fiction, and Bullfrog Founders Club member. Born on Vancouver Island in 1967, Oppel spent his early childhood years on the West Coast and his teen years on the East Coast. His first novel, Colin’s Fantastic Video Adventure, written at the age of 14 during the summer holidays, was passed along to Oppel’s favourite author, Roald Dahl, by a family friend.

Impressed, Dahl passed the story on to his own literary agent, and a publishing contract followed. Since then, Oppel has published 23 titles, including the Silverwing trilogy, which has sold over a million copies around the world, Airborn, winner of multiple awards including the 2004 Governor General’s Award for children’s literature, and Skybreaker, a New York Times bestseller.

Oppel’s highly successful writing career means he is well placed to get his message out to the next generation, and he acknowledges his role as an influencer of youth. “I feel a sense of responsibility to the kids reading my books,” he comments, “and we owe it to them to leave behind a world that hasn’t been overly compromised.”

Oppel’s sensitivity to this planetary legacy is evident in his keen lens on the natural world. Silverwing chronicles the strange and heroic sonic journey taken by a migrating bat, Shade, who becomes separated from his colony. Oppel’s fascination with bats and their natural quest was triggered by a friend who built bat boxes and nailed them to trees. The landscapes of Silverwing reflect Oppel’s deep appreciation for his childhood environs. The mountains in Silverwing evoke The Lions, Vancouver’s twin peaks that form the backdrop to the Vancouver skyline. The ancient tree inhabited by Shade was inspired by the boreal forest.

When he isn’t busy penning the next bestseller, Oppel spends part of his time speaking with students at schools. He is cautiously optimistic that the next generation is better equipped than his own to act as responsible custodians of the environment. “Humans are experts in short-term thinking,” he says. “Most of us have difficulty thinking beyond the course of our own lifetimes, and politicians typically can’t see beyond a term of office. But the next generation is far better educated about environmental issues than we ever were.”

Oppel believes business and government have important roles to play in leaving a cleaner environment for our children. “Everyone’s role should be proportional to their footprint,” he says. “Major emitters should be responsible for those emissions, and government should motivate industry to clean up — not just through punitive action, but through positive incentives.” He believes incentives can also help individual citizens: “We should provide tax breaks to consumers who make the choice for premium, green products — like hybrids or green power.” Oppel’s own decision to switch to Bullfrog Power fits with his ultimate faith in the power of individual choice. “In the past, we became very comfortable using as much electricity as we wanted,” he points out, “but we were blind to the consequences. Now that we understand the consequences, we need to reduce our consumption and do what we can to ensure that our energy comes from clean renewable sources.”