How to Choose Your Reading Material for a Long-Distance Flight: The One-Year-Old Edition

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Jen Sherman

Staff Writer

Jen is an urban and cultural geographer who did a PhD on public libraries and reading. As a researcher, her interests are focused on libraries, reading, book retailing and the book industry more broadly. As a reader, she reads a lot of crime fiction, non-fiction, and chicklit. And board books. All the board books. You can also find her writing about books for children and babies at Instagram: shittyhousewife / babylibrarians Twitter: @jennnigan

When packing your carry-on luggage for a long-haul flight, one of the most important decisions is what book(s) to take (because let’s face it, most of what you take in your carry-on isn’t really a decision. You’re going to need that passport and wallet). There are multiple lists out there on great reads for the plane and criteria for what makes a great plane read. For me, the criteria are engrossing and page-turner-y, and in a font large enough that I won’t get motion sick while reading. I have read nonfiction books that made me angry, great fiction that made me sob, crime fiction and chick lit, old books and new releases. What they all had in common was that they made me forget I was on a plane.

Recently, I flew to Australia and back with a one-year-old. The journey is about 14 hours, give or take, and the most pressing concern before the trip was how to survive the trip. I still packed my own books in my carry-on just in case, but this time the far bigger decision was what to bring so the baby would stay entertained and happy in the periods when she was awake (because surely she must sleep for some of those 14 hours, right? Please?)

Books were some of the things we took in our carry-on. The baby’s at an age now where she likes turning pages, she likes the book as an object, and she even sometimes sits still long enough to listen to an entire story. When she’s upset or cranky, I pick up a book and start reading loud enough to drown out her grumblings, and she quietens down. So books were definitely coming with us. But which ones?

We have a lot of kids’ books, and we will sometimes read three or four in a row. So how do you choose which ones to take for a 14-hour flight? And how many?! In the end, we packed three board books in our carry-on, and these were a carefully curated selection. Our picks:

  1. This Little Piggy finger puppet book. We have three finger puppet books, and the baby loves them. She loves biting on the puppet, and she gets this look of evil delight on her face as she grabs the book and chomps down on the puppet. These books are an instant mood-lifter. I chose This Little Piggy over Little Horse and Baby Giraffe because this was a nursery rhyme I have memorised and can read to her without actually looking at the pages or words (Little Horse and Baby Giraffe were tucked into the checked luggage).
  2. The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The board book version we have has holes in each page, as the caterpillar eats through his food over the week. It’s a light and small board book that the baby loves turning the pages of (each page is a different size which is fun), and the story is also one I have near memorised (the only part where I get tripped up is the order of the food in his Saturday feast).
  3. Sheep in a Shop. This is a fun one to read aloud, with a bit more of a plot than the other two. And that’s important in a plane read! You want a good plot. We had been reading Sheep in a Jeep a lot at home before the trip, so I wanted something that was familiar but also a little different.
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Have you been on long flights with your baby or toddler? Like any good reader, Tilly brought some of her books to read on the flight to Australia. . . . . #igbooks #booklove #bookstagram #instabooks #booksofinsta #riotgrams #storytime #picturebooks #childrensbooks #kidlit #boardbooks #babylibrarians #baby #babies #igbaby #babiesofinstagram #babiesofig #babiesofinsta #instababies #planebaby #babiesonaplane #theveryhungrycaterpillar #ericcarle

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How did we do with this book selection, in the end? Well, I found that for the most part, food was a better distraction than books. But it was still very useful to have them. We didn’t read Sheep in a Shop at all on the plane. The Very Hungry Caterpillar came out on the LAX to SYD flight but not the SYD to LAX trip. And This Little Piggy came out on both flights and was an extremely effective distraction. Thank goodness for finger puppets.