Airplanes are often a favourite amongst vehicle-loving young children, making children’s books about airplanes popular, and for good reason. Unlike cars, buses, and trains, airplanes are often a less-frequent form of transport — I’m in my late 30s, and travelling by air still feels special (although I’m cognisant of the environmental impact, avoid it whenever I can, and offset it if I can’t). The journey around air travel can be an adventure in and of itself: going to the airport and spending time in that weird liminal space can be an exciting process. Then there’s the flight itself — whether you’re a nervous flier or enjoy the thrill of being up in the air, it’s a form of travel like no other.
The history of aviation is also a fascinating topic that, along with the fun around flight, can make for a fascinating background for a children’s book. Flying airplanes hasn’t always been simple, or accessible; the spectre of segregation and racism looms particularly large in US aviation history, and some inspirational historical figures fought to overcome these barriers. Here are some of the best children’s books about airplanes and aviators for young readers, including board and picture books for babies, non-fiction books that focus on the technical side of plane travel, and biographies of famous pilots.
Airplane Flight!: A Lift-the-Flap Adventure by Susanna Leonard Hill
Very young readers will love this fun and engaging board book about airplanes. With flaps to lift, fun rhymes to repeat, and cute illustrations to discuss, Airplane Flight! is an adorable book that will encourage a love of flying in all children.
Emma Jane’s Aeroplane by Katie Haworth, Illustrated by Daniel Rieley
This beautiful picture book follows Emma Jane as she flies her airplane around the world, accompanied by a host of fun animal characters. With a fun rhyming narrative and plenty to spot in the pictures, this is a great read for young families.
Ron’s Big Mission by Corinne Naden and Rose Blue, Illustrated by Don Tate
Airplanes are an important background to this picture book about Ronald McNair, who grew up to become one of the first Black astronauts, and who sadly died in the Challenger disaster. This picture book tells the story of an important moment in young Ron’s life, when he refused to leave his town’s segregated library until he was allowed to check out his books on airplanes, a brave act which eventually led to the library being desegregated.
Maisy Goes by Plane by Lucy Cousins
An entry in the beloved Maisy series, Maisy Goes By Plane is the perfect read for any young children who are a bit nervous about their first plane ride. Readers can follow Maisy along on her journey, learning about the process of getting through an airport and how the plane works.
My Mama is Flying that Plane by Donna Beasley, Illustrated by Edwin Harris Jr
Although the narrative is fictional, My Mama is Flying that Plane draws on real history, telling the story of early African American aviators. Janet and Bess (named after historical figures Bessie Coleman and Janet Watford) cheer on their mother, who decides, after the loss of her job, to train as a pilot.
Amazing Airplanes by Ant Parker and Tony Mitton
Young children who are interested in how planes work will love this entry in the Amazing Machines series, which is filled with easy-to-understand details about the different parts of a plane. It also looks at all the different jobs and roles that make up air travel, from pilots and air stewards to ground crew and baggage handlers.
Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman by Nikki Grimes, Illustrated by Earl B. Lewis
Bessie Coleman was the first Black female pilot, overcoming racism, segregation and other social barriers to achieve her dream of flying airplanes. Told as a series of imagined monologues by people who may have known Bessie, Talkin’ About Bessie gives a great overview of this inspirational woman’s life and achievements.
You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen by Carole Boston Weatherford, Illustrated by Jeffery Boston Weatherford
Aimed at older elementary readers, You Can Fly tells the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of Black men who trained as pilots in the segregated US military forces of the Second World War. Told in verse and accompanied with beautiful illustrations, You Can Fly is an essential read for children interested in airplanes and history.
For one Rioter’s look at air travel as a reader, check out our article on The Thing About Reading on Airplanes. If the young reader in your life loves all kinds of travel, try 6 of the Best Picture Books About Vehicles.