Flying up, up, and away in an airplane

Airplane Ride, by Douglas Florian. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell. $10.95. This ultra-simple, straightforward book manages to pack a lot of adventure behind its brief 37-word text and childlike illustrations. Children who love to play with things-that-go like planes, boats, and cars will delight in identifying the various modes of transportation shown in this coast-to-coast flight over the United States.

We meet the pilot and his little yellow biplane, Number 26, as he is ``starting her up'' and proceeding to taxi down the runway. Number 26 (steered in open cockpit by a green-scarfed pilot) takes off and soars over a bay in the Pacific where gulls, luxury liners, schooners, and a whale's tail are all colorfully (and implausibly!) illustrated from the wondrous visual perspective of a child. From here, he loops over a beach at an amusement park where the clouds look like sugar cookies and the adults in th e roller coaster are having as much fun as the children. He then cruises upside down and through ``heavy traffic'' in his cross-country sweep over cities, forests, deserts, and mountains.

Child-art (reconceived and presented here by the adult author, presumably) so often abounds with implicit and unintended humor. The ironic beauty of Florian's illustrations is that he consciously intends and achieves this effect -- through a huge breaching fish face poking out of the ocean with a smile; a tiny plane in the skyscape carrying a banner saying ``Read'' as our pilot studies his map; a view of him standing on his hands on the wing of his in-flight plane when it is ``time for exercise.''

Children can become easily immersed in this short, visually rich adventure -- and all the more so if adults will extend themselves to ``see what they see,'' and point out the varying terrains of the North American continent. The author-illustrator gives the reader a veritable travel tour reminiscent of that well-known image storyteller, Mitsumaso Anno. It's full of consciously exaggerated yet primal and honest images, any of which could in themselves elicit make-believe stories from preschool/kind er- garten-age children. That's the sign of a truly artful achievement.

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