STEM Paper Airplane Challenge and Airplane Books

Making paper airplanes is a great way to begin learning about flight, the creation of the first plane, and aerodynamics in general!In our STEM Challenge class a few weeks ago, we had the challenge to make a paper airplane that could fly out of the school room door. We had a lot of fun testing and tweaking our paper airplanes to get them to fly! Learning about paper airplanes has prompted my son to discover the interesting world of flight and research Wilbur and Orville Wright. Here are some airplane books for those who would like to learn more about airplanes, flight, and aerodynamics, from toddler to upper elementary ages!

On this list, I’ve included some favorite toddler books as well as books that may teach more of the STEM side of flying. *Asterisk indicates a higher reading level for older kids.

Toddler Airplane Books

Planes by Byron Barton is a perfect board book for toddlers! Few words on every page explain the different types of planes featured, with attention drawn to the people and the setting each plane is in.

Planes Go by Steve Light is a board book that focuses on the sounds different types of planes make.

Maisy’s Plane by Lucy Cousins is a plane-shaped book about a favorite toddler character flying high.

Away in My Airplane by Margaret Wise Brown has the favorite author’s lilting rhyming voice with adorable modern illustrations as a young one flies in a child-like imagination.

Traveling by Plane

On the Plane by Carron Brown and Bee Johnson is a Shine-a-Light book that lets kids see “inside” the various parts of a plane. The emphasis is on travel, but kids will love to “see inside!”

Richard Scarry’s A Day at the Airport follows Richard Scarry’s traditional silly-but-informative word books. This one shows what is what in an airport.

Amazing Airplanes by Tony Mitten features friendly animals taking flight in an airplane! It includes a diagram of the parts of the airplane and their function at a very basic level.

The Little Airplane by Lois Lenski features Pilot Small flying a plane. Kids will see some of the important mechanics that surround airplanes and flying.

The Noisy Airplane Ride by Mike Downs shows the sounds a child hears before, during, and after take off as he travels by air. At the end, readers get a detailed and technical diagram of other sounds plane travelers may hear.

STEM Airplane BooksLearn about early aviators and the engineering of flight with these great books.

Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen tells about a creative young girl who is a genius inventor. Eventually she builds herself an airplane.

How People Learned to Fly by Fran Hodgkins is a nonfiction book discussing the process of learning how to get people airborne. It’s told with a delightful conversational tone that makes it a fun read for kids.

Leonardo and the Flying Boy by Laurence Anholt is about a boy living long before the first airplane, working as an apprentice to the artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci.

Jet Plane by David McCullough explains how airplanes work in straight forward ways.

*Flight School by Nicholas Barnard takes kids into the pilot seat to learn how and airplane works and how pilots fly them.

*How to Build a Plane by Martin Sodomka and Staskia Lacey tells the technical details about how to build a plane from the perspective of three animal friend narrators.

Biographies of the Wright Brothers

To Fly by Wendie C. Old is a story about the Wright brothers and their passion to fly. It emphasizes the relationships between the brothers as well as their learning process. My son kept coming back to this book for more!

First Flight by George Shea is an early reader about the Wright brothers and their friend Tom Tate.

My Brother’s Flying Machine by Jane Yolen tells about the Wright brothers’ creation through the perspective of their sister Katharine.

Will and Orv by Walter Schultz is a historical fiction early chapter book about the brothers told in a story format.

*The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane by Russell Freedman is a picture biography explaining the process of developing the first airplane. Real photographs give this book life!

*The Wright Brothers for Kids by Mary Kay Carson includes 21 activities for kids to do as they learn about the Wright brothers. Hands-on learning!

Biographies of Other Aviators and Inventors

Neo Leo by Gene Barretta looks at the inventions that Leonardo da Vinci sketched hundreds of years before they were built, including flying machines.

Flight by Robert Burleigh tells about Charles Lindbergh’s famous first crossing of the Atlantic.

Daring Amelia by Barbara Lowell is a young reader biography about the famous aviator. It is full of interesting details about her childhood and her road to flight.

Night Flight: Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic by Robert Burleigh tells the story of the famous woman’s crossing of the Atlantic.

Amelia Earhart: The Legend of the Lost Aviator tells of Amelia’s life and emphasizes details to her last transmission before she was lost.

Our Paper Airplane Challenge

The most fun part of our paper airplane STEM Challenge day was of course trying to get our paper airplanes to fly out of the door.  I gave the class a situation, which I think makes it even more fun. The students had a problem: they wanted to send a note to a friend who was in the hallway. Could they make a paper airplane that would fly from one side of the room to the other?

It was harder than it looked! We began by talking about real airplane aerodynamics from NASA so we could talk about drag, lift, thrust, and weight. Before we got paper and began experimenting, I gave them some tips from Fun Paper Airplanes, but I think most kids had an idea in their minds already and wanted to go with those. Despite the fact that some kids had difficulty getting their creations to fly, it was a fun challenge day. Isn’t the challenge the best part of the fun? “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

Could we fly a paper airplane out the door

At home, my two oldest kids played with some patterned paper airplanes, too, from the paper airplane book. My 4-year-old dreamer gave her paper airplanes names. What fun and simple STEM!

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