Books about planes, trains, and automobiles

The books recommended below were all published within the last several years and reviewed by The Horn Book Magazine. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion.

 

Picture Books

Suggested grade level listed with each entry

Where’s My T-R-U-C-K? written by Karen Beaumont; illus. by David Catrow (Dial)
“Tommy’s not himself today. / He’s lost his T-R-U-C-K!” When a boy’s favorite truck goes missing, the whole household gets dragged into the drama. The illustrations’ wild proportions and perspectives kick the bouncy, rhyming text up a notch. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

Everything Goes: On Land by Brian Biggs (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)
Henry and his dad make their way through spreads packed with things that go and discuss (via speech balloons) the different modes of transportation. The richly-colored illustrations feature visual jokes and mini-stories. Grade level: PS. 48 pages.

Heroes of the Surf written by Elisa Carbone; illus. by Nancy Carpenter (Viking)
When the steamship Pliny ran aground in 1882, the U.S. Life-Saving Service came to her aid. Two real-life boys aboard the Pliny rethink their fascination with pirates post-rescue: pirates are out, life savers are in. An author’s note separates fact from fiction. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

A Bus Called Heaven by Bob Graham (Candlewick)
When young Stella claims an abandoned bus for the whole neighborhood, it provides this ethnically diverse, lower-middle-class group of people space to build a community. Inviting ink and watercolor illustrations vary perspectives dynamically. Grade level: PS. 40 pages.

The Village Garage by G. Brian Karas (Holt/Ottaviano)
Cheery text welcomes readers to the Village Garage, where a diverse crew of municipal workers tackle jobs around town. Truck fanatics will dig the heavy-duty vehicles; the conversational narrative and friendly art have appeal even for the less truck-enthused. Grade level: PS. 32 pages.

Machines Go to Work by William Low (Holt)
Each of six small vignettes introduces one or two machines; poses a question; and, through foldout flaps, offers a (reassuring) answer. Terrific sound effects encourage listeners to join in. Impressionistic digital art brightly colors each page. See also Machines Go to Work in the City. Grade level: PS. 32 pages.

I’m Fast! written by Kate McMullan; illus. by Jim McMullan (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)
Challenged to a race from Sacramento to Chicago by a red sports car, a train engine is ready for action—just as soon as the freight is loaded. Peppy text is embellished with onomatopoeia; broad horizontal spreads show the beauty and challenge of the journey. Grade level: PS. 40 pages.

Tía Isa Wants a Car written by Meg Medina; illus. by Claudio Muñoz (Candlewick)
The young narrator, who lives in America with her aunt and uncle, describes how Tía Isa wants a car. However, they don’t have enough money—yet. The narrator incorporates Spanish words naturally. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

Go! Go! Go! by Roxie Munro (Sterling)
Double-page spreads present “goers.” The first depicts a fire station, with lift-the-flaps introducing personnel and equipment; a segmented foldout then shows the truck leaving the
station on a duty call. Grade level: PS. 24 pages.

The Best Bike Ride Ever written by James Proimos; illus. by Johanna Wright (Dial)
While her parents are still delivering their safety warnings, Bonnie rides off on her new bike, climbing over bridges and mountains and visiting the Grand Canyon. Homey ink and acrylic landscapes show the whole adventure taking place in her backyard. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

The Trucker by Barbara Samuels (Farrar)
Truck-lover Leo only has eyes for big rigs; he wants nothing to do with the pet cat, Lola, that Mama surprises him with. After some impressive rescue work (Bunny is trapped in a pretend burning building), Lola wins Leo over. Grade level: PS. 40 pages.

Subway Story by Julia Sarcone-Roach (Knopf)
Subway car Jessie begins service during the 1964 New York World’s Fair. After about fifty years she’s dismantled and dumped into the ocean. Cozy illustrations show Jessie happily residing on the ocean floor as an artificial reef, home to myriad sea animals. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.

Cars Galore written by Peter Stein; illus. by Bob Staake (Candlewick)
A peppy, rhythmic text whizzes along beautifully with surreal illustrations of all kinds of autos. Racing cars, junk cars, and never-before-seen cars twist and turn on a black highway snaking throughout the book. Grade level: PS. 32 pages.

Truck Stuck written by Sallie Wolf; illus. by Andy Robert Davies (Charlesbridge)
For the boy and girl running a lemonade stand, a truck stuck under a nearby overpass spells good luck. Rhymes and cartoon illustrations add to the humor of this story of cars and trucks and things that won’t go. Grade level: PS. 32 pages.

Air Show! written by Treat Williams; illus. by Robert Neubecker (Hyperion)
Ellie goes to an air show in a plane flown by her dad. At the show, Ellie flies in a stunt plane—with a pilot named Amelia, of course. Stunning illustrations make great use of perspective, from a closeup of an instrument panel to a bird’s-eye view of an airfield. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.

 

Intermediate

Suggested grade level: 4-6

Around the World in 100 Days by Gary Blackwood (Dutton)
In this sequel of sorts to Jules Verne’s classic, Harry Fogg makes a bet with his father’s old nemesis that he can circumnavigate the globe in one hundred days—this time in a steam-powered motor car. 358 pages.

Murder Afloat by Jane Leslie Conly (Hyperion)
Pampered fourteen-year-old Benjamin is kidnapped by a crew of oyster dredgers. With society’s veneer removed, he discovers how far he’ll go to survive. A finely crafted coming-of-age story that, despite its 1868 Chesapeake Bay setting, feels timeless. 164 pages.

Crunch by Leslie Connor (HarperCollins/Tegen)
When a severe fuel shortage strands their parents, the five Marriss kids hold down the family’s bike business. With fewer cars operating, growing demand on the shop may overrun their  abilities. A feel-good denouement brings the community together. 330 pages.

The Traveling Restaurant: Jasper’s Voyage in Three Parts by Barbara Else (Gecko)
Jasper’s family flees the evil Lady Gall by ship—and leaves him behind. Onboard an odd vessel called the Traveling Restaurant, Jasper learns about his family’s part in the accident that removed magic from Fontania and his own potential role in restoring it. 295 pages.

The Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen by Geraldine McCaughrean (HarperCollins/Harper)
In this rip-roaring turn-of-the-twentieth-century adventure, twelve-year-old Cissy Sissney and two of her classmates visit their beloved former teacher, whose acting troupe has taken up residence on a rundown steamboat. 325 pages.

The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester by Barbara O’Connor (Farrar/Foster)
Owen Jester finds the best salvage ever: a submarine built for two, perfect for launching in Graham Pond. To figure out how to retrieve and navigate the sub, Owen needs help from his neighbor, the irritating but whip-smart Viola. 168 pages.

Secrets at Sea written by Richard Peck; illus. by Kelly Murphy (Dial)
The social-climbing Cranstons (human) take an ocean voyage to Europe hoping to snag a husband for daughter Olive. Observant, careful Helena and her younger siblings (mice) go, too. This droll take on human and mouse society is exquisite. 241 pages.

Around the World by Matt Phelan (Candlewick)
Stunning sequential art, third-person narratives, and the travelers’ own words relate three remarkable tales of real-life around-the-world journeys: Thomas Stevens’s in 1884, Nellie Bly’s in 1889, and Joshua Slocum’s in 1895. 237 pages.

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus (Abrams/Amulet)
Shipwrecked in 1842, Manjiro and his fellow fishermen are rescued by a whaler. Manjiro stays on the ship, learning English and later going with the captain to his home in Massachusetts. The book is augmented with actual drawings by Manjiro. 306 pages.

On the Blue Comet written by Rosemary Wells; illus. by Bagram Ibatoulline (Candlewick)
In 1931, Oscar’s father heads to California looking for work. Oscar takes solace in visiting his beloved train set, repossessed and now on display at the bank, and mysteriously finds himself on a full-sized train, heading to a future (1941) California. 329 pages.

 

Older fiction

Suggested grade level: 7 and up

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (Little)
In a bleak dystopian future America, “ship breaker” Nailer discovers a wrecked clipper ship and its sole survivor, Nita. Nailer chooses to protect Nita and help find her family. Revisit this “waterlogged world” in companion novel The Drowned Cities. 326 pages.

Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck by Margarita Engle (Holt)
Several first-person narratives converge in this verse novel of the sixteenth century. Two star-crossed lovers of Cuban legend; two historical figures, a pirate and a ruthless conquistador; and a fictional slave give readers spare pieces of one overall story. 145 pages.

How to Steal a Car by Pete Hautman (Scholastic)
Suburban teen Kelleigh chooses a unique subject for a school essay: how to steal a car. Even more unexpected—she’s writing from personal experience. A charismatic first-person narrator recounts a convincing tale of a good girl finding her wild side. 170 pages.

Destroy All Cars by Blake Nelson (Scholastic)
James would “destroy all cars” to save Earth from global warming. In journal entries and AP English assignments, he also chronicles unrequited pining for his “do-gooder” ex-girlfriend and his hilarious relationship with his English teacher. 218 pages.

The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic by Allan Wolf (Candlewick)
This novel in verse gives voice to a cross section of Titanic passengers and crew. Hovering over all is the omniscient, ominous “Iceberg”. Explanatory character notes separate verifiable fact from fiction and address conflicting reports. 467 pages.

Leviathan [Leviathan Trilogy] by Scott Westerfeld; illus. by Keith Thompson (Simon Pulse)
As WWI breaks out, Prince Aleksandar and his advisers flee to the Swiss Alps. Deryn, disguised as a boy, is aboard the British airship Leviathan, which crashes near Alek’s estate. The two begin a complicated dance of diplomacy in this trilogy blending history and steampunk. Also see sequels Behemoth and Goliath.  440 pages.

 

Nonfiction

Suggested grade levels listed with each entry.

Driven: A Photobiography of Henry Ford by Don Mitchell (National)
A brief, engaging text appraises its subject, placing Ford in the context of his times and presenting his many contradictions. The book’s inviting design features an array of photographs, captions, and quotes. Grade level: 4–6. 40 pages.

Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and Air by Stewart Ross; illus. by Stephen Biesty (Candlewick)
This remarkable book presents fourteen historical explorations, from Pytheas the Greek’s voyage to the first moon shot. Detailed cross sections diagram each mode of transportation. The text diligently differentiates between fact and opinion. Grade level: 4–6. 96 pages.

Blizzard of Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1917 by Sally M. Walker (Holt)
In 1917, two ships collided in the Halifax harbor, one of them carrying a huge amount of explosives. The explosion, devastating aftermath, and rebuilding are related from the perspective of five families that lived in the waterfront neighborhoods. Grade level: 4–6. 141 pages.

Far from Shore: Chronicles of an Open Ocean Voyage by Sophie Webb (Houghton)
This journal details a naturalist’s experiences as a birder on a four-month-long research cruise, combining scientific information, field guide–like illustrations, and an account of day-to-day life. Intricate marine-hued watercolors portray the ship and sea life. Grade level: 4–6. 80 pages.

Pharaoh’s Boat by David Weitzman (Houghton)
This handsome casebook on constructing (and, thousands of years later, reconstructing) the boat Pharaoh Cheops would ride into the afterlife focuses on intricacies of design and creation. Clear schematic drawings illustrate the boat’s parts and assemblage. Grade level: 4–6. 48 pages.

Honda: The Boy Who Dreamed of Cars written by Mark Weston; illus. by Katie Yamasaki (Lee)
This biography outlines the life of Japanese automaker Soichiro Honda, who repaired vehicles, designed and built motorcycles, and built the Honda Civic. Acrylic paintings combine inventive elements with potentially sterile pictures of machinery. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

Night Flight: Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic written by Robert Burleigh; illus. by Wendell Minor (Simon/Wiseman)
This free-verse account of Earhart’s 1932 solo transatlantic flight settles into the cockpit and describes what the legendary pilot might have seen and felt on the long, tense journey. Vivid paintings heighten the text’s immediacy. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.

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