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Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

y Kenneth Oppel

Publishing Information: Eos: New York, 2007
ISBN: 9780060850548
: 322 p.
Ages: 10 & Up

In the Paleocene epoch, 65 million years ago, the earth was going through some drastic changes in its geography and its inhabitants. usk belonged to the chiropter community but he was unlike all the others in his colony.  His chest was heavier, his body stockier and his sails were furless. The chiropters glided through the tree branches but Dusk had an almost uncontrollable urge to flap his sails like wings.  He also had the ability to see objects through echolocation. Unbeknownst to him or his colony, he was evolving into the first bat.  But other animals were also evolving into carnivores and the new species were colliding and changing the world forever. 

Book Talk:
In the Paleocene epoch, 65 million years ago, the last dinosaurs are dying out and the Earth’s mammals are living in a time of dramatic upheaval.  Dusk lives in a colony of chiropters or tree gliders on an island. Because they cannot fly, they are ridiculed and tormented by the birds that live in the upper treetops. Both species despise and distrust each other but in order to survive they stay out of each other’s way and remain in their own area of the trees. 

Since his birth Dusk has always been different. His body is more compact and his chest is broad and heavy. And his sails have no fur on them. Normally he would have been shunned by the colony, but because his father is the leader he is tolerated by the group. As long as he doesn’t do anything foolish. And the one thing that would cause him the most trouble is the one thing he feels compelled to do. Fly. Like a bird. But he would have to do in secret. Normally chiropters would glide down from branch to branch and then climb up the trunk. But Dusk was too heavy and climbing was cumbersome and exhausting. So he learned how to catch the thermals (rising air) to lift him to the higher branches. The older members of the colony looked at it with scorn but the youngsters took to it with zeal. In fact, it lifted them to the treetops - the territory of the birds. Dusk and his sister Sylph were riding the thermals when this huge shadow blotted his vision of the sky. When he looked at it he saw something he’d never seen before. It was huge. It had a long crested head and jagged wings that spanned forty feet. And its wings had no feathers. It was falling right towards them and as it closed in he saw a long beak, or jaws with one wing collapsed and the other snapping ferociously. He quickly called to the colony to get out of the way. As the thing thundered over him he was sucked into the turbulence, head over tail. He tried to stop himself, but collided with the creature’s leathery tail and crashed into the trees, digging in with his claws to hold on. The creature was tangled in the branches directly above him and he noticed there was no light behind the creature’s huge black eyes. He looked it over carefully and saw that it’s wings looked a bit like his own furless sails. It had no feathers, yet it flew.

What could this thing possibly be? His father had an answer. And it was one that sent shivers through the whole colony. But this threat was nothing compared to the new animals from the mainland that were evolving into the most lethal carnivores of all.

Subject Headings & Major Themes:

Animal adaptation
Bats – Migration
Prehistorica Animals
Wild Cats

Awards & Reviews:
Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children (Nominee), 2008
Imperial Order of Daughters of the Empire's Violet Downey Award, 2008
Ontario Library Association’s Red Maple Award, 2008
Quill & Quire Book of the Year, 2007
Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children's Book Award, 2008
Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastics (Shortlist), 2008
Globe & Mail Top Ten Pick, 2007
Los Angeles Times Book Prize, 2007

Booklist, September 1, 2007 (Starred Review)
Horn Book, September 1, 2007
Kirkus Reviews
, August 1, 2007
KLIATT, July 1, 2007 (Starred Review)
School Library Journal
, September 1, 2007, p. 205
VOYA: Voice of Youth Advocates, December 1, 2007, (Starred Review)

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. Why do you think the author chose the name Dusk for his main character?  What does it represent?
  2. Describe how Dusk is different from the other chiropters.
  3. Do you think the colony made a good choice relocating to the island?  Why or why not?  Explain.
  4. Carnassial finally crossed the line.  How do you think that changed him and what, if any, importance does it have for other animals and evolution itself?
  5. What adaptations does Dusk have that would help his species survive?  Explain.
  6. Dusk asks Sylph – Is different wrong?  What do you think?
  7. Think about the kids in your school, neighborhood, or community.  How are kids treated who are “different”?   Does your own behavior towards “different” kids reflect your opinion about Dusk’s question?
  8. If you were part of the chiropter colony, would you follow Dusk or Jib?  Why?
  9. Both the birds and the chiropters demonstrate prejudice.  Use examples from the story to demonstrate this.
  10. How does Dusk help the colony to survive?  Does he display leadership qualities?  Why or why not?
  11.  How does Dusk use the thermals to escape the island?
  12. Compare and contrast the two different chiropter colonies of Gyrokus and
           Icaron.  Which do you think is better?  Why?
  13.  How have the tree runners managed to survive and flourish in their new world?  (Think about adaptations)
  14. Sylph and Dusk argue over what to do about the saurian eggs.  Who do you think is right?  Why?
  15. Where do you think Dusk will choose for his final home?  Why?

Questions used and generated from the teachers guide at

Related Websites & School Related Activities:
Author's Website:

Literature:  While reading the novel, peruse the website devoted to Darkwing.

Interdisciplinary units:
Science:  Using animal adaptation as a theme, research bats, and/or other animals, and how they adapt to the changing environment.
Great idea from

Animal adaptations:  investigate and report on animal adaptations   amazing animal senses

Animal adaptations:  (more advanced) 

Social Studies:
In conjunction with the study of evolution in science or a unit on endangered animals, conduct a debate on evolution vs. creationism or endangered animal protection vs. economic use of land (use of zoos for animal preservation) or global warming and it’s effects on the environment/adaptation of species vs. natural history.

Math: Calculate and graph endangered or extinct animal populations

Deptford Histories by Robin Jarvis, 2000-2002
Redwall series by Brian Jacques, 1986-
Seekers series by Erin Hunter, 2008-
Warriors series by Erin Hunter, 2003-

The Bat: Wings in the Night Sky by M. Brock Fenton, 1998
by Phil Richardson, 2002
Bats of the World: 103 Species in Full Color by Gary L. Graham, 1994
Walker's Bats of the World by Ronald M. Nowak, 1994

Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande, 2007
Monkey Town: The Summer of the Scopes Trial by Ronald Kidd, 2006
Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution by Steve Jenkins, 2002
The Scopes Trial: The Battle Over Teaching Evolution by Stephanie Fitzgerald, 2007

More Advanced Readers:  
Animal Farm by George Orwell, 1945
Balook by Piers Anthony, 1997
Clan of the Cave Bear byJean Auel, 1980
Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror, 1997
Watership Down by Richard Adams, 1972

Other Books by the Author:
Colin's Fantastic Video Adventure, 1985
Cosimo Cat, 1990
Live-Forever Machine, 1992
Dead Water Zone, 1993
Follow That Star, 1994
Silverwing, 1997
Emma's Emu, 1999
A Bad Case of Ghosts, 2000
Peg and the Whale, 2000
A Strange Case of Magic, 2000
Sunwing, 2000 (sequel to Silverwing)
A Crazy Case of Robots, 2001
The Devil's Cure, 2001
An Incredible Case of Dinosaurs, 2001
A Creepy Case of Vampires, 2002
A Weird Case of Super-Goo, 2002
Firewing, 2003 (sequel to Sunwing)
Airborn, 2004 (2006 RITBA Nominee)
Skybreaker, 2006
(sequel to Airborn)

About the Author:
Kenneth Oppel (born August 31, 1967) is a Canadian author. Born in Port Alberni, British Columbia, he spent his childhood in Victoria, British Columbia and Halifax, Nova Scotia. He has also lived in England and Ireland

Oppel’s first published book, Colin’s Fantastic Video Adventure (1985), was written while he was a high school student at St. Michael’s University School in Victoria. Oppel fForwarded the newly completed manuscript to his favorite author and family friend, Roald Dahl, who in turn recommended it to his agent. Oppel went on to receive his Bachelor of Arts degree in cinema studies and English at Trinity College in the University of Toronto, writing The Live-Forever Machine (1992) during his final year.  Oppel moved to England and wrote a number of books during that period, gleaning several ideas while working at typing students’ papers. Oppel worked as an editor at Quill and Quire, the trade magazine of the Canadian publishing industry, from 1995 to 1996.

He is probably best know for his trilogy of Silverwing, Sunwing, and Firewing. His most recent books are Airborn (2004) and its sequel, Skybreaker (2005). And Darkwing (2007), the prequel to his Silverwing trilogy. Set 65 million years ago, Darkwing depicts the tale of the first bat, Dusk, who discovers that he has the gift of flight. Being the only one from his colony that is capable of powered flight, he quickly becomes an outcast.  When half his colony is wiped out by predators, he embarks on a dangerous quest to find a new home. 

Kenneth Oppel stated during his recent Canadian book tour that he has completed his next book in the Airborn and Skybreaker series, which will be released at some point in 2008.  It is titled Starclimber and will be about the first airship journey into space. All main characters such as Matt Cruse and Kate DeVries will return.

The author has won several literary awards, including the 2004 Governor General’s Literary Award for English language children’s literature (for Airborn) and The Times Children’s Novel of 2005 (for Skybreaker, named a 2006 Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association).

Oppel is married to Philippa Sheppard, and has three children, Sophia, Nate and Julia.  He lives in Toronto, Ontario. (From

| ©2004 - Rhode Island Teen Book Award Committee | Aaron Coutu, Chair