a list of…five terrific takes on transportation

Hot Air: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Hot-Air Balloon Ride, written and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman

On September 19, 1783, in front of the glittering palace of Versailles, a magnificent crowd of people gathered to see a stunningly-immense, sapphire-blue balloon ascend into the sky.  How terribly exciting!  This was something completely new!  Heads craned.  Ropes tautened.  Hats were thrown in enthusiasm.

Who rode in the balloon?

A duck.  A sheep.  And a rooster.

Eight minutes later, the historic flight ended, and the three intrepid balloonists were found, unharmed.

Ah, but what happened during the flight?  That constitutes the (mostly) part referred to in this fantastic book’s title!  With verve, humor, and splendid imagination, Marjorie Priceman illustrates, wordlessly, the airborne antics of these famous explorers.  Her energetic, colorful, gorgeous illustrations won a Caldecott Honor in 2006.  Page after page of azure skies and a canary-yellow duck, tangerine-colored terracotta rooftops, amethyst breezes and emerald, leafy, trees, leap out at us, swirl, dance, curlicue,  with energetic vignettes of the perils and pluck of the sheep, the rooster, and the duck.

An added, illustrated history of the Mongolfier brothers’ ballooning experiments gives more of the realio-trulio elements behind this delightful account.   Great fun for preschoolers and up.

Louise Builds a Boat, written and illustrated by Louise Pfanner

Louise is building herself a boat, and what a capital craft it will be!   This is a girl who knows what’s essential for happy sailing.  For instance, a crow’s nest makes a dandy spot for watching dolphins at play.  And a figurehead is such jolly fun to paint, she simply can’t do without one.

Bit by bit, Louise’s dream boat takes shape.  Her multicolored- quiltish hammock hangs in the snug cabin above a neat line-up of whimsical shoes.  Her galley – ooh la la! — shines with cheery, red-and-white polka dotted dishes, and bins and baskets crammed with juicy oranges and multi-colored this-and-that.  When the whole, brilliant, lipstick-red boat is finished, Louise is set to sail around the world, visiting all her friends.  What a good idea.

This story is short on words, packed with imaginative detail in the bright, rustic pictures, and — super colossal bonus — has secret messages to solve!  Yes!  Louise strings jaunty signal flags upon the ship’s ropes, spelling out words 10 different times along the way.  Each signal flag is matched to its letter of the alphabet on the end papers of  the book; all you have to do is find the matching designs and write down their letters to decode these clever puzzles.

An exciting, daydream-inspiring book for little siblings to look at, while  bigger, reading-folk decipher the flags.  My kids adored this book in younger days, and had a grand time spelling out codes for one another using the flag alphabet and a box of crayons.

If I Built a Car, written and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

Moving along to automotive design.

This chap, Jack, is a mite bored with his dad’s 1950-model station wagon, so he gets to work on a design of his own.  The result looks like something from The Jetsons…on steroids.

Wow!  It’s sleek.  It’s retro and futuristic simultaneously.  It’s carnation-pink and flame-red with plenty of dazzling chrome.  But looks aren’t the only thing.  Oh my, no.  There are sublime safety features, and bucket-loads of built-in entertainment, from swimming pool to fireplace, automated food delivery system to robotic chauffeur.  And this car does not stick slavishly to roads.  No way.  It is definitely water-worthy and aeronautically-capable, as well.  What a car!!

This is the stuff dreams are made of, delivered in a gee-whiz blast of highly-stylized, retro goodness.  The text is in enjoyable, energetic, rhyme that has a bit of a Dr. Seuss jive to it.  The brilliant, bold pictures look as if they’ve hopped right out of 1950s advertisements, and boy-oh-boy will your kids love ’em!  This will easily be a read-it-again book for many children, ages 4 or 5 and up.

Freight Train, illustrated and written by Donald Crews

This is Donald Crews’ classic look at one, Crayola-crayon-colored, train. With just a few words, and page after page of outstanding graphic design, Crews has captured the fancy of a couple generations of children.

First, just the tracks parade across the page.  Then, introduced one by one, each car chugs by with its own eye-popping color and its own descriptive name — gondola car, tender, caboose.  Finally, the elegant black steam engine appears, whose puffs of charcoal smoke billow out in waves.  Look.  There’s the whole, beautiful train.

Watch it move.  Streaks of glorious color.  Cleverly emerging from tunnels.  Streaming past sophisticated cities.  Daring to cross elaborate bridges.

Freight Train contains just over 50 quiet words, yet in combination with the fascinating, genius representations of this handsome train, they mesmerize us.  Crews won a Caldecott Honor in 1979 for this work.  It has become an enduring toddler staple.  We certainly gazed at it hundreds of times over the years, memorized the words.  Perfect selection for early, snuggly reading and wondering.

Cars Galore, by Peter Stein, illustrated by Bob Staake

On the smooth black highway twisting like spaghetti across these pages, winding, climbing, loop-de-looping like a roller coaster, comes a parade of some of the craziest cars you’ll ever see.

Cars direct from Who-ville.  Cars equipped with whales.  Cars that tower like skyscrapers.  Bed cars.  Igloo cars.  Cars propelled by hundreds of feet.

Turn the pages, read the exuberant rhymes, and find the preposterous vehicles that match the descriptions.  Staake has interpreted this listing of cars with flair; his digital illustrations feature dozens of fanciful, outlandish jalopies kids will adore finding and giggling over.  If I were taking a long road trip, I’d pack this one along for poring over, and mimicking with a set of markers.  Just a lot of fun.

Here are Amazon links for all these moving-along books:

Hot Air: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Hot-Air Balloon Ride (Caldecott Honor Book)

Louise Builds a Boat

If I Built a Car

Freight Train

Cars Galore