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September 7, 2010

New Books: Air Show!, Captain Sky Blue

Okay, it’s a stereotype: Boys love airplanes. I’m sure plenty of girls love them too, as evidenced by one of the books I’ll be talking about them here. But as it happens, both my boys do appear to love planes. In slightly different ways.

My younger son, two-year-old Griffin, has the more traditional-boy visceral reaction to them (and to anything with an engine). He loves the size, the noise, the physical power. And so he loves Air Show!, written by actor Treat Williams and illustrated by Robert Neubecker. (It joins the small but growing list of worthwhile picture books by celebrities—the author is a commercial pilot and flight instructor himself, and his enthusiasm for flying is evident on every page.) It's about a visit by a brother and sister with their pilot father to, yes, an air show, where they are thrilled to see dozens of classic planes, and the girl gets to take a ride with a (female) stunt pilot. It’s stuffed full of vivid images of World War II fighter planes and flashy red stunt planes, as well as helicopters, flying boats—you name it. And it gets across marvelously the excitement the kids—and the adults—feel at both seeing all these amazing machines and actually taking flight in some of them. The look in Griffin’s eyes as we read it to him is, to be honest, a little alarming.

There’s plenty of flight jargon in Air Show!, but it’s of the practical variety: It takes you through the various pilot-copilot checklists before takeoff and landing, for example. Veteran illustrator Richard Egielski (The Tub People) uses pilot terminology in his new Captain Sky Blue as a main feature—it conveys the action and even in some ways drives the plot. Egielski’s typically vivid, stylized art tells the story of the pilot of a young boy’s toy plane, whose aircraft is struck by lightning (“Mayday!”), leaving him to take a “nylon letdown” to safety far from his owner’s home. Determined to find his way back, he eventually makes his way to a familiar place—Santa’s workshop at the North Pole (“Now I’m spooled up!”)—and devises a clever plan to end up back with his boy. The book helpfully includes a glossary, so kids and parents can figure out what Captain Sky Blue is talking about. And since wordplay and language are always going to be the road to the heart of my five-year-old, Dash, Egielski has put one right in his wheelhouse.

So there you have it: Two great new airplane books for two entirely different temperaments. Of course, occasionally each boy will sneak over and grab the one that’s supposed to be the other’s favorite, so maybe I should just leave it at “two great new airplane books.”

[Photos: Whitney Webster]

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