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The Airport Book

airportI suppose I should begin this post with the standard disclaimer about how this doesn’t look like a traditional Caldecott choice and blah blah and BLAH. But really, is there such a thing anymore?

So I’ll just say, This book is brilliant and deserves Caldecott recognition. The fact that it manages to be, simultaneously, an informative report on traveling by airplane, a story about a particular family of four’s trip (the little boy in this family is the book’s narrator), AND eight million other travelers’ stories is staggering. (OK, I’m exaggerating about the eight million, but it may be close.) Lisa Brown uses so many picture-book tools to accomplish this: a main text in a standard typeface; lots of dialogue in speech balloons; a split screen telling stuffed-animal Monkey’s story (running at the bottom of the page — which works particularly well considering that physically, on an airplane, the luggage would in fact be below the main cabin — separated from the larger story via placement of the text). She uses color so effectively, making potentially busy spreads easy to read and allowing our eyes to focus on what we need to. Look how much of the background she leaves white: in the airport scenes, she puts a whole lot of detail into the backgrounds but doesn’t color it in, providing both verisimilitude — because there’s lots to look at in airports — and a sense of calm. You don’t have to look, but it’s all there. And we know it’s intentional, because look at that last spread, when they’ve arrived at their destination and the airport is behind them: totally saturated with color. We can relax and enjoy the sunshine and the beach and being with the grandparents.

I can’t possibly list here every storyline told in the pictures, every detail of note — but I can say that they are all rewarding, and there for a reason. I love that some of the stories we can follow are funny — the spy’s mysterious package; some are a little ironic — the single man with the baby who cries for the entire flight but of course falls peacefully asleep after the plane lands; some are poignant but also funny — the annoying businesswoman with her cellphone (“blah blah blah blah”) and her sleep mask and her latte who is happy to ditch all that when reunited with her child. Care has been taken also with the endpapers, which are perfect; the paper jacket, which comes off to reveal vignettes of some of the travelers/subplots; and our narrator’s outfit, which includes a cap with an anchor on it and a backpack with a rocket on it. The boy is ready to travel; he is nonstop.

In terms of inclusivity, this book hits a lot of marks: it stars a biracial family but also includes a host of folks outside the mainstream (a woman in a hijab, a man in a turban, a woman in a wheelchair, a woman wearing a salwar kameez, a blind person) and some shattered gender stereotypes (a woman pilot, lots of women ground crew workers, a man traveling alone with a baby, an [Asian American] male flight attendant). But is it heavy-handed? No, it is not. Just a natural portrait of our world, depicted with a compelling narrative, suspense, and humor.

(I will note that once again it seems to fall to me to point out that blind people do not actually use white canes and guide dogs at the same time. Kudos to Brown for including an independent blind person, negotiating the airport without assistance, but after Last Stop on Market Street, I am starting to wonder if the blind person-plus-cane-plus-dog is becoming a thing. Once again, I will also state that such a small detail should not — and rightly did not, in the case of Last Stop — throw a wrench into a book’s Caldecott chances. I just wish it would go away.)

In my Horn Book review of The Airport Book (which we starred) I said, “This is one of those books you could look at forever and never run out of new things to notice, smile at, and fold into the next reading.” And just to prove my own point, even though I happily pored and pored over this book before reviewing it, I never noticed the photograph on the chest of drawers, as our family of four are packing for their trip. It’s a picture of the grandparents, nicely foreshadowing the family’s ultimate destination. I’m sure there are dozens of other details I’ve missed; I will leave it to the Caldecott committee to find — and appreciate and applaud — them all. Fly high, Airport Book!


Martha V. Parravano About Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.



  1. Sam Bloom says:

    This has been one of my favorites this year, and yet I do believe you just pointed out roughly ten things I hadn’t caught in my dozens of reads. Putting it back on order from the library so I can find everything you mentioned!

  2. Robin Smith says:

    Oh my! I knew I should have arm-wrestled you for this title; I love it so! And, like Sam, I missed some of the details you noted. I bet kids will love reading this book over and over. I do!

  3. So far, this is my top pick. And I hadn’t even looked under the dust jacket yet!

  4. Eric Carpenter says:

    My top pick as well! I love everything about this book. Over the last 10 months I’m sure I’ve looked at it at least 100 times and there is just so much in these pages to pour over and enjoy. I hope this re-readablity pays dividends with the committee as they laboriously read and reread all of the choices.
    I think my favorite little detail is the copy of Hatchet one of the passengers is planning to read during the flight (love that bit of dark humor!).

  5. So Eric, your HATCHET example (which I hadn’t noticed – love it!) inspired me to take another, closer look at this. My new favorite thing about it is the fact that the Wright Brothers and Amelia Earhart make cameos, both in the “little indoor town” spread; the Wright bros. on the far right, Earhart on the far left (she also has a limo waiting for her, and we see her again as the family is zooming away with their grandparents… on the beach with her aviatrix hat and goggles still attached).

    I also love the hipster dude (with a beard, natch) who shows up at the airport on his bike, checks it in, does stretches in the terminal, and bikes away when they finally get to their destination. He is not to be confused with the hipster dude with the yellow/white hat and opaque glasses.

    Two people I want to know more about: the big guy in yellow with the green olive-looking bolo tie, and the pregnant woman pulling carry-on baggage which is shaped like a pregnant torso.

  6. Martha V. Parravano Martha V. Parravano says:

    Told you all you’d find more 😉

    And what about the guy in the Arctic-temps parka and the STRIPED RED AND WHITE SCARF?? Where’s Waldo, anyone? Or, if that’s a stretch — still, what’s with the parka? Intrigue!!

  7. “So I’ll just say, This book is brilliant and deserves Caldecott recognition.”

    Completely agree on both contentions, am also a big fan of the book and its creator, and much appreciate such a fantastic appreciation. Last year we also had some wonderful picture book art from Ms. Brown in “Mummy Cat.”

  8. Love this book! As everyone else has stated, I see more and more every time I look at it. But it’s not just about the fact that it rewards re-reading – there is a lot of effort put into making sure that all of that action and detail does not overwhelm the main storyline, or become overwhelming. The families are mostly colorcoded, for instance. The ginger family is all in blueish green and orange, the older family in greens and pinks, etc.

    My favorite side story is the the older family with the wife constantly nagging her husband about having the boarding passes/tickets/whatever. It amuses me every time, because I have seen that play out in real life so many times. They’ve got a young person with them, so my headcanon is that they are an older couple who adopted later in life.

    I loved the businesswoman/mother scene too. It’s the side story that gets the biggest reaction when I read the book to classrooms.

    The man traveling with the baby is interacting with another man at the beginning, so possibly an inclusion beyond just gender stereotypes.

  9. Martha V. Parravano Martha V. Parravano says:

    Alys notes, “The man traveling with the baby is interacting with another man at the beginning, so possibly an inclusion beyond just gender stereotypes.” That’s an excellent way to put it, thank you! Also true of the two young women next to the white car on the arrival/reunion spread — could be friends, could be sisters, could be a lesbian couple… room for lots of interpretation.

  10. Brenda Martin says:

    I really enjoy reading and re-reading THE AIRPORT BOOK, and it will be shared by many of my students for years to come. But despite all the great things mentioned about it above, there’s something about it that shows as a “Top 10” or on multiple “Best of the Year” lists rather than a Caldecott winner or honoree. Maybe it’s the style of art that doesn’t wow me (although the structure of it certainly does. The way Brown keeps all of her storylines juggled competently and without confusion is amazing!) Maybe it’s the text font, while clear and not distracting, is nondescript. Or maybe it’s the passengers arrival walking down ramp stairs onto the tarmac, which seems strangely out of place at an airport serving Perth, Cherrapunji, and Portland. Small things, but all of which I noted the first time through.

  11. My favorite detail had been the man at the arrivals gate holding the sign for “Earhart” but then I noticed before boarding there are two men and one is holding a briefcase labelled W. Wright. Now I can’t decide which amuses me more!

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