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If you were the kid to dream of piloting your own airplane, drifting through the clouds in a hot air balloon, or engineering your own wings for solo flight, then the upcoming, epic adventure The Aeronauts is for you. Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne reunite as a pilot and scientist duo that aim to fly the highest any gas balloon has flown before. If this concept doesn’t stir that adventurous aeronaut in you, then maybe these book recommendations will.

 

His Dark Materials Series by Philip Pullman

From the 2007 The Golden Compass movie to HBO’s latest TV series adaptation, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series is a familiar tale for many. This fantasy trilogy of parallel universes and politics features talking armored polar bears, animal companions that shapeshift to mirror an individual’s soul, and colorful characters such as Lee Scoresby: a Texan aeronaut with a strong moral code and generous heart. This expansive series traverses through numerous worlds and environments, and often you’ll have the pleasure of doing so from the sky with Mr. Scoresby, his companion Hester the hare, and his trusty balloon.

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Mortal Engines Quartet by Philip Reeve

You may have heard of Peter Jackson’s 2018 Mortal Engines film. Yes, it has stunning visuals. Yes, it was disappointing story-wise, but Philip Reeve’s series of the same name is everything the movie could have been. The four books follow two adventurers, Hester and Tom, from their early days to their later years in a world where cities live on tracks and hunt each other down in the most Darwinist fashion a mobile city can. If entire cities going full Mad Max Fury Road doesn’t cut it for you, there’s submarine towns, raft cities floating free on the ocean, and yes, a flying town the main characters and their aviator friends regularly frequent. The underlying POC, disability, and sexuality/gender representation doesn’t hurt, and if you like this series, there are prequel books called the Fever Crumb series.

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Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld, Illustrated by Keith Thompson

Flying towns are cool, but how about flying whales or jellyfish? Best known for his young adult Uglies series, Scott Westerfeld pins the steampunk Central Powers (or “Clankers”) against the biotech Entente Powers (or “Darwinists”) in this alternate history of World War I. On one side there’s commoner Deryn, a girl passing as a boy in the service of the British Air Service, and on the other there’s Austro-Hungarian Prince Aleksander, on the run from his own people. Most of the first book takes place on board the Leviathan, a zeppelin whale, but throughout the series you’ll become acquainted with jellyfish hot air balloons, strap-on wings, steampunk planes, and even bats and hawks used for battle. If you’re craving more of Thompson’s richly detailed art by the end, there’s also The Manual of Aeronautics: An Illustrated Guide to the Leviathan Series, full of illustrations not featured in the series.

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Airman by Eoin Colfer

Want more alternate history with a greater dash of science? Eoin Colfer’s Airman is the one for you. Like Colfer’s well-loved Artemis Fowl series, Airman’s protagonist is a young, brilliant boy, but Conor’s obsession leans away from masterminding crime and more towards conquering the sky. The setting is bleak – a fictional 19th century Saltee Islands – and the story sounds just as bleak – Conor is unjustly thrown into jail after witnessing conspiracy against the crown – but this tale will fill all your aviator needs from jumping out of a burning tower with a makeshift glider to dodging bullets and even giving birth in a drifting hot air balloon.

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The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois

Also set on a slightly fictionalized island with diamond mines, The Twenty-One Balloons tells of Professor Sherman, a man who plans to float in a gas balloon for a year because he honestly just needs a break from it all. Unfortunately, Sherman’s sabbatical takes a drastic turn after an accident with a seagull leaves him stranded on the volcanic island of Krakatoa, where he discovers twenty families reside. Similar to stories such as Life of Pi and The Little Prince, du Bois weaves in child-like wonder with mild social commentary, and there are even clever illustrations of the mechanics behind some of the inventions created throughout the story.

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Antoine de Saint-Exupéry books

Why pick one of Saint-Exupéry’s books when you can read them all? With experience as an airmail carrier and a pilot in the French Air Force during World War II, it’s no surprise all his works feature flight in some way. Try Night Flight or Southern Mail if you want a fictional look at the dangers, and sometimes tragedy, of airmail. Read Wind, Sand and Stars for an autobiographical retelling of Saint-Exupéry’s treacherous airmail experiences and Flight to Arras for details on his terrifying mission over Arras during the 1940 German invasion of France. Pick up The Little Prince for an honest take on what it means to grow up. It may be hard to obtain some of his less popular reads, so try your local library for some help.

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Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs, Illustrated by Sophia Foster-Dimino

Although The Aeronauts film trades out scientist James Glaisher’s real aviator partner, Henry Tracey Coxwell, for fictional Amelia Wren, there are plenty of historic female aviators. One of those is the well-known Amelia Earhart, the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, but have you heard of Bessie Coleman, the first woman of African-American descent and first person of Native-American descent to obtain a pilot's license? Sam Maggs details Coleman’s experiences in a condensed but plucky biography along with 24 other historic women, and there's also Q&As with modern women engineers, inventors, and spies, so you’ll leave this book informed on more than just aeronauts alone.

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