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The Fly List: Books About Takeoffs, Landings And Bumpy Rides

Who needs destinations? This summer, we're focusing on the journey. All these books — some old, some new — will transport you: by train,plane, car, bike, boat, foot, city transit, horse, balloon, rocket ship, time machine and even the odd giant peach. Bon voyage! (Taxes and fees not included).

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Book Your Trip: Plane

The Skies Belong To Us

by Brendan I. Koerner

It's hard to remember a pre-Sept. 11 world where passengers routinely strolled directly onto planes — no security — and puffed cigarettes throughout their flight. It's even more difficult to believe how long that took to change, given the skyjacking surge — terrifying in retrospect — that lasted for more than a decade. From 1961 to 1972, 159 passenger planes were hijacked in the U.S., sometimes more than one a week. While D.B. Cooper remains the most infamous example, this book focuses on the longest-distance hijacking in American aviation history: In 1972, a troubled African-American Vietnam veteran and his feckless white girlfriend threatened to blow up a plane in hopes of freeing Black Panther activist Angela Davis, then in prison. (They didn't actually have a bomb.) Epic negotiations and multiple stops across the country resulted in a half-million dollars in ransom and political sanctuary in Algeria. Other players in this extraordinary drama include Eldridge Cleaver, Jean-Paul Sartre and Najeeb Halaby, an Arab-American then in charge of the Federal Aviation Administration who fought for tougher security measures in spite of intense opposition from the airline industry.

-- Neda Ulaby, correspondent, Arts Desk

Lost Horizon

by James Hilton

This novel follows a small group of Brits and one American, led by diplomat Hugh Conway, as they are evacuated from a war-torn country. When their plane is hijacked and crashes in the Himalayas, they make their way to Shangri-La, a utopian community hidden in a remote valley. They find refuge in a monastery there and discover that the people who live in Shangri-La seem to be eternally youthful. Conway finds new meaning in the quiet, contemplative life of the monastery and wants to remain there, but circumstances draw him back into the world. As the story ends, he is searching for a way to return to this place where he was once truly at peace. This story first captured my imagination as a young girl. I fell in love with the idea of an idyllic, lost world, and the romance of it still pulls at me. Who wouldn't want Shangri-La to be the final destination of a plane trip gone wrong?

-- Lynn Neary, correspondent, Arts Desk


by Donald Crews

This Donald Crews picture book was published 15 years before Sept. 11 made airport security a key component — and sometimes major hassle — of the travel-by-plane experience. Still, reading this picture book to children is a good way to help them prepare for an upcoming flight. Crews' boxy, bold and bright graphics, rendered with color-rich gouache paints, depict scenes of people boarding an airplane that taxis to the runway and then takes off, climbing over highways, rivers and mountains before it's "time to head down ... down, down, down" at the arrival airport. Flying was already a classic when I discovered it as the mother of a toddler who was wild about all modes of transportation. That toddler has since grown into a 20-something, but I still enjoy flipping through this book, and not only because it brings back sweet memories of my son's childhood. Flying offers a vacation adventure when constraints of time and money preclude me from taking anything other than a flight of fancy. When Crews' plane takes off, so does my imagination. (For ages 4 to 8)

-- Laura Jeffrey, former NPR transcripts staff

Lost In Shangri-La

by Mitchell Zuckoff

I loved the original Shangri-La of Lost Horizon, so when I saw the title of this book I was intrigued. My curiosity grew when I saw it was about a plane that crashed in New Guinea during World War II — I had an uncle who went missing under the same circumstances in the same part of the world. The crash in this book occurred when 24 members of the U.S. military, on a rare day off, took a "sightseeing" flight over an area so remote it had been dubbed Shangri-La. Three people, including a woman, survived and made their way into territory inhabited by a tribe that had never had any contact with civilization and reportedly were cannibals. This is a fascinating survival story and also one of the most entertaining rescue stories I have ever read. For reasons you will have to read for yourself to believe, the rescue mission, which finally took the three survivors home, was actually filmed for posterity.

-- Lynn Neary, correspondent, Arts Desk


by Sherri L. Smith

Ida Mae Jones cleans houses for a living. It's 1941 in Louisiana, and as she is a "colored girl," housecleaning is practically all she's allowed to do. That is, until the attack on Pearl Harbor turns everything upside down. Suddenly, Ida Mae can serve her country as part of the Women Airforce Service Pilots program, turning the hours she spent flying her late father's crop duster into a real pilot's license as she's always dreamed. But only if she forsakes her beloved family and uses her pale skin and smooth hair to pass herself off as white. It's tough to say which of Ida Mae's death-defying feats generates more suspense: standard WASP tasks like landing a B-29 bomber with a busted engine, or her attempts to stay alive and whole at heart while "passing" in 1940s Texas. The combination definitely makes Flygirl a moving, exhilarating read. (For ages 12 and up)

-- Margaret H. Willison, book critic


by Colum McCann

It takes a while to understand how all the parts of this book work together. It opens with three lengthy sections of historical fiction: One imagines Frederick Douglass' 1845 visit to Ireland, another is based on George Mitchell's work as a peace negotiator in Northern Ireland, and the third is about the 1919 trans-Atlantic flight that gives the book its title. The ties that bind these stories don't become clear until the concluding sections of the book. Some think the wait is too long, but I was delighted as the cross-cultural and cross-generational connections unfolded. And the opening chapter on the first trans-Atlantic flight from North America to Ireland — for which two World War I veterans flew 16 hours in an open cockpit — is an incredible piece of writing on the terror and beauty of early flight.

-- Lynn Neary, correspondent, Arts Desk

The Little Prince

by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

When a downed pilot stranded in the desert meets a curious young prince, both lives are changed forever. As the Little Prince's story unfolds we learn that on his small, solitary home planet he had fallen in love with a beautiful rose. But when she lied to him, he left, seeking to cure his loneliness. As the Little Prince journeys from planet to planet, he meets a businessman, a king, and others — however, each grown-up is woefully sad. On Earth, the Little Prince encounters a sly snake and a wise fox. As he ponders what is important in life, the Little Prince makes a fateful decision to return to his beloved rose. Antoine de Saint-Exupery's classic is at once heartwarming and heartbreaking, and will leave you feeling better for having welcomed The Little Prince into your world. (For ages 10 and up)

-- Lisa Yee, author, most recently of Warp Speed

Flight 3

by Kazu Kibuishi

A whale held aloft by tiny birds. A girl who floats 6 inches off the ground. Two boys who contemplate a leap off The Edge Of The World: These are just a few of the variations on "flight" in Kazu Kibuishi's third comics collection on the theme. Flight: Volume 3 assembles some two dozen stories about every form of flight, from the drifting of clouds (in Bill Plympton's "The Cloud") to the surprise hoisting of a hyperactive kitty (in Johane Matte's "Hunter"). Some characters' flight is earthbound, as when Phil Craven's protagonist teams up with a strange tree creature to flee from hunters. Others' is merely suggested, as in Rodolphe Guenoden's standout "Message in a Bottle." In that story, much about a woman's emotional plight is conveyed through an iconic wheelie bag. Many of the stories and situations here will appeal to children, but there's nothing childish about the ebullient illustrations and complex, sometimes dark themes. Flight is just the thing to share across seats on a family plane trip.

-- Etelka Lehoczky, comics critic

The Statistical Probability Of Love At First Sight

by Jennifer E. Smith

When Hadley misses her flight to London by just four minutes, she is distraught — as if being a bridesmaid in her father's profoundly unwelcome second wedding isn't bad enough, now she's going be late as well. But that's before she meets her seatmate Oliver, a handsome Brit whose warm, bantering kindness transforms Hadley's trans-Atlantic flight into something she could never have anticipated: a love story. Jennifer Smith manages something rare in this sweet book, mixing earnest depictions of family sadness together with frothy young love in a way that enriches both. The heft of Hadley's and Oliver's problems with their fathers could make their burgeoning affection seem flimsy; instead, their ability to share these weighty emotions turns quicksilver chemistry into genuine, believable intimacy. Best of all, this book can be devoured easily in the length of a single plane ride. (For ages 12 and up)

-- Margaret H. Willison, book critic

The Way Back Home

by Oliver Jeffers

If you find an airplane in your closet, why not fly to the moon? In The Way Back Home, that's exactly what a young pilot does. Only, since the moon is way, way up there, the airplane runs out of fuel and leaves the boy stuck and scared. As his flashlight dims, the pilot worries that no one will find him. Yet someone does: A Martian crashes his spaceship near the light, and the two stranded adventurers set their fears aside to help each other find their way back home. In his trademark style, Oliver Jeffers' witty, spare prose and quirky art create a heartwarming story of ingenuity and friendship. (For ages 4 and up)

-- Lisa Yee, author, most recently of Warp Speed