After reading The Hallelujah Flight by Phil Bildner, I was interested in reading more about the pilot James Banning. It was shocking and saddening to find that his death was tragically tied to discrimination and racism. He was the passenger in a fatal plane crash as he was not permitted to be the pilot. Otherwise, most of the information I found was similar to the content included in The Hallelujah Flight.
There is not a wealth of information about Banning, so it made me appreciate even more the way Bildner made Banning come vividly to life.
I have taken the basic information about Banning’s life and created a short biography for students to read and compare to the story book. I created three versions of the text (advanced, easy, and easy without reference to Banning’s death) for you to pick the text most appropriate for your students. The text can be downloaded here via Teachers Pay Teachers.
Historical fiction is my all-time favorite genre. I fell in love with the Little House on the Prairie books as a child and never looked back. But I don’t remember reading historical fiction picture books, so as a teacher and parent, I am completely in love with this genre. I love finding great books like this one, The Hallelujah Flight, where I can learn about amazing people in United States history, in such a quick and engaging manner.
This book is based off the first transcontinental flight by an African American pilot, James Banning. He was joined by Thomas Allen, as his copilot and mechanic, in the historical 1932 flight. Together they fixed up a dilapidated plane and prepared to take off from California to New York. They knew the plane wouldn’t make it without additional work, and they didn’t have the money for food or fuel. Putting their faith in fellow humankind, Banning came up with the idea of having people who offered help along the way sign their names on the tip of the wing. Everyone would then become part of the historical flight, and his plan worked!
The Hallelujah Flight does a great job of honoring Banning and Allen, who became known as the Flying Hoboes, and all those who helped them on their flight. The book also gently touches on the discrimination they experienced in some areas of the United States. Overall, the tone remains positive and uplifting, making it an appropriate text for kindergarten and up.
Bildner found a treasure in this story. Not much information is recorded on Banning and this flight. A quick Google search on Banning doesn’t turn up much. His Wikipedia page is short and sad – he died in a 1933 flight where he was the passenger as a flight instructor had refused to allow him the pilot’s seat. Records of Allen’s remain, so Bildner used him as the narrator. The dialogue between Allen and Bildner is easy to follow, and the book is fun to read aloud. The illustrations are engaging with a retro feel and rich colors. This is a great book for Black History Month or anytime of the year.
Common Core Discussion Questions Based off K-3 Reading: Literature Standards
For The Hallelujah Flight
- Who is the narrator of the book?
- Banning and Allen did not have enough money for the flight across the United States. What plan did they come up with to make their dream possible?
- Why do you think Banning and Allen wanted to fly across the country?
- Why were Banning and Allen called the Flying Hoboes?
- Would you have wanted to sign the wing of the plane? Why or why not?
- What words would you use to describe the plane?
- What does it mean, “we encountered something far more dangerous than hot weather and nightfall: prejudice”?
- Why do you think Banning and Allen named the flight, “The Hallelujah Flight?” What feelings do you think they had with the word hallelujah?
- What lessons can we learn from this famous flight?