Prepare for Liftoff: 17 Picture Books for a Child’s First Flight | Milestones

For many young readers (and their grown-ups), boarding an airplane is easier said than done. This list features titles to prep young travelers in advance.

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Summer is the perfect time for taking long-distance trips to visit relatives and see the sites. But for many young readers (and their grown-ups), boarding an airplane to make the voyage is easier said than done. The below list features nonfiction and fiction titles about airports, airplanes, and flight to prep young travelers in advance. They’ll be soaring to new heights in no time.



These timeless books written by beloved authors are great choices to share with nervous first-time fliers.

Airport by Byron Barton. Greenwillow. ISBN 9780064431453.
Toddler-Gr 1–Barton introduces young readers to the fun of the airport in his bold and colorful signature style. From the excitement of arrival to the wonder of taking off, Airport captures the hubbub of an airport with vibrant images and spare text.

Planes by Byron Barton. HarperFestival. ISBN 9780694011667. 
Toddler-Gr 1–Children explore the different ways we use airplanes. This classic was originally published in 1986 as Airplanes and reissued as a board book in 1998 with the shorter title. The spare text and Barton’s iconic art makes the kid-friendly topic even more appealing to new travelers.

Away in My Airplane by Margaret Wise Brown. illus. by Henry Fisher. Silver Dolphin. ISBN‎ 9781684127535.
PrS-K–A child experiences the wonder and excitement of riding an airplane. This fun and rhyming story by the best-selling author of children's classics Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny is a charming read-aloud for before, during, or after a trip.  



Planes by Gail Gibbons. Holiday House. ISBN 9780823441549. 
Baby-PrS–From early attempts at flight through modern jumbo jets, this board book, jam packed with more than 30 flying machines, will soar into the hands of little ones. Featuring very simple text and bright illustrations introducing different planes, helicopters, jets, and rockets, Planes will appeal to curious young readers and spark their interest in things that fly.

First Flight by David McPhail. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316563321.
PrS-Gr 2–A boy’s teddy bear grows until it’s life size and accompanies its owner on their first plane ride. The little boy obeys the rules of safe and appropriate behavior on his first flight, while the teddy bear does the opposite. This silly and gorgeous-to-look-at tale was published in the late 1980s, but will still resonate with today’s kids and make them laugh out loud.

Richard Scarry's A Day at the Airport by Richard Scarry. Random. ISBN 9780375812026.
Toddler-PrS–Scarry’s beloved characters Huckle Cat, Sally, and Lowly Worm take readers on a day of adventure at the airport, giving kids an up-close look at the terminal, control tower, runway, and more. Scarry’s bright art makes this perfect for giving anxious passengers lots to pore over.

Board Books

These sturdy volumes are just the right size for little ones who will be happy to have something fun to hold on to.

Go, Planes, Go! by Addie Boswell. illus. by Alexander Mostov. Little Bigfoot. ISBN 9781632173157.
Baby-Toddler–From the author and illustrator team of Go, Bikes, Go!, this delightful board book celebrates planes in action. There are planes with two wings, and planes with four. There are planes with noses, and planes with tails. Young children will be fascinated by the wide variety of planes depicted in the whimsical illustrations and will enjoy the rhyming and rhythmic text. 

Planes Go by Steve Light. Chronicle. ISBN 9781452128993.
Baby-Toddler–Filled with onomatopoeia and begging to be read aloud, this long and oversized format will entice vehicle fans as they learn about the sounds helicopters, jumbo jets, and propeller planes make. Light’s bold and boisterous art and fun text will have toddlers turning pages over and over again. 



Picture Books

Children can take a closer look at several aspects of flying, from the plane itself to the process of taking a flight, in these offerings.

The Ultimate Book of Airplanes and Airports by Sophie Bordet-Petillon. illus. by Marc Etienne Peintre. Twirl. ISBN 9791027603039.
K-Gr 3–The book title says it all. This masterfully made pop-up book has lots of flaps, pull-tabs, and rotating wheels, giving young travelers something tactile to ground them as they think about their upcoming, high-flying adventures. Readers will poke into the cockpit of a Boeing 747, investigate the innards of a baggage carousel, and explore an extraordinary collection of airplanes, from early biplanes to modern jets.

The Airport Book by Lisa Brown. Roaring Brook Pr. ISBN‎ 9781626720916.
PreS-Gr 2–It's raining in the city, and a mixed-race family of four takes a cab to the airport. The first page shows a single car on a long, flat drive to their destination, but the page turns and opens to the chaos of the airport itself. Brown bumps up readers' interest by following several groups of passengers through the procedures and places in an airport, from drop-off to pick-up. At check-in, through security, at the gate, and on the plane, careful readers will notice a little girl’s stuffed animal making a parallel journey. The girl and her monkey are reunited at the end of the trip, and by then readers have learned what to expect when they fly. 

The Noisy Airplane Ride by Mike Downs. illus. by David Gordon. Tricycle Pr. ISBN 9781582461571.
PreS-Gr 2–This picture book offers a rhyming tour of the variety of sounds a child might hear before, during, and after takeoff. The rhythmic noises make for a great read-aloud, while the book also helps demystify some of the sights and physical sensations of a plane ride, from luggage loading to queasiness. This title might soothe young, first-time flyers and those who have sound sensitivity. The photorealistic illustrations will ground kids as well.


Five Trucks by Brian Floca. Atheneum/Richard Jackson Bks. ISBN 9781481405935.
PreS-Gr 2–With the sparest of texts, this book features airport vehicles rarely seen in preschool books, as well as the trucks' drivers. On the second appearance of each truck, the text counts back from the fifth to the first truck, adding another concept covered in the book. It's when viewers see each truck for the second time that it is identified by name, e.g., catering truck, baggage conveyor, etc., in a different font, giving the feel of an informational book for young audiences. A wordless subplot about a boy with his dad and a colorful plaid suitcase starts on the title page. The suitcase is easily identifiable as it's loaded onto the plane. The story culminates with the boy waving to the drivers from his airplane seat. While the crisp, clear illustrations, rendered in watercolor, ink, and gouache, are uncluttered, there is much to talk about in the pictures. This book should satisfy fliers with its rich content and engaging art.

My First Airplane Ride by Patricia Hubbell. illus. by Nancy Speir. Two Lions. ISBN 9781477816752.
PrS-Gr 1–Accompanied by his mom and dad, a little boy takes his first airplane trip. After packing and then driving to the airport, the family picks up boarding passes, goes through security, finds their gate, and walks the jetway. Once aboard the aircraft, the child snuggles into his seat. Following the flight attendant's safety briefing, the plane soars into the sky. When it lands, Grandma greets her grandchild with open arms. The concise plot nicely portrays what children can expect on an airline flight. Noticeable details in Speir's acrylic spreads include a small toy airplane on the boy's dresser, an airplane-patterned backpack, and two cuddly teddy bears. A quick read-aloud, this picture book is a worthy choice to share with children new to air travel.

Go, Go, Planes! (Step into Reading) by Jennifer Liberts. illus by. Mike Yamada. Random. ISBN 9780593374986.
PrS-Gr 1–A brother and sister discover all kinds of planes, from jumbo jets to toy planes to small planes flying overhead! Young flight enthusiasts will take pride in cruising through the easy-to-read text. Bright, cheerful art will support word recognition along their journey to reading success. This is an excellent selection for those early elementary students boarding their first airplane. A beginning reader, it features big type and decodable words for children who know the alphabet and are eager to begin reading. Rhyme and rhythmic text paired with picture clues help children piece the parts of the story together.


Planes Fly! by George Ella Lyon. illus. by Mick Wiggins. S. & S./Atheneum. ISBN 9781442450257.
PreS-K–Lyon takes off to the sky with this exuberant book. Jaunty, bouncing-off-the-tongue rhyming text names aircraft parts, lists different kinds of planes, and describes passenger air-travel experiences, repeating the upbeat refrain, "Planes fly!" throughout. Wiggins's retro-style illustrations amplify the cheerful tone with bright, bold colors and strong, streamlined images. The wonderfully diverse cast of passengers on the aerobus includes a nervous little girl and a little boy. A reassuring rundown of events that happen between buckling the seatbelt and touching down for landing (including a snack and a nap) makes this title helpful to those new to flying.

Jet Plane: How It Works by David Macaulay with Sheila Keenan. illus. by David Macaulay. 32p. Roaring Brook/David Macaulay Studio. ISBN 9781596437647.
Gr 2-4–Simple narration explains the sights, sounds, and mechanics of a flight from a passenger's perspective. Readers are invited to look for a suitcase (marked with a red arrow) going up the loading ramp, "notice the cockpit," and look through the window to view the runway and the flaps on the wing. Simple yet detailed drawings explain how the wings provide lift for the plane and change its direction, and that the force of air through the engine provides thrust to carry the plane through space. One spread depicts the function of radar by day and night. The beautifully colored illustrations beg for repeated viewings, and the narrow lines of text in an early-reader format will help children feel comfortable with the information and new terms introduced. This will find an appreciative audience.

The Airport: The Inside Story by John Walton. illus. by Hannah Abbo. Neon Squid. ISBN 9781684493098.
K-Gr 3–Readers meet pilots and baggage handlers, and learn about the science behind how everything works in this nonfiction tale. Aviation expert Walton takes readers behind the scenes to meet the incredible people who work night and day to keep an airport working, from control tower operators to security staff and janitors. The book also explains the science and engineering behind how things work, from X-ray scanners to baggage carousels. Set over the course of one day, readers check in with different people in the airport, including an excited family heading on vacation and sniffer dog and its handler working at the security checkpoint. Abbo’s spectacular illustrations make this trip an even more special one.

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