The Hallelujah Flight

Written By: Phil Bildner

Illustrated By: John Holyfield

Before Reading

Explore Illustrations

Take a moment before beginning your read-through to look at the cover and illustrations throughout the book. Ask your child these questions about what they think will happen in the story:

What do you notice on the front cover?

Why do you think the story is called “The Hallelujah Flight”?

[Flip to a certain page] What do you think is happening in this picture?

Where do you think the two men are trying to fly?

Do you think that the men will get to where they want to go?


Historical Fiction:

Tell your child that the story you are about to read is historical fiction. Say that while parts of the story are fiction, it is based on the true story of James Banning and Thomas Allen, the first African Americans to complete a flight from one side of the United States to another.

As You Read

Vocabulary Building:

Encourage your child to pause when they come to a word that they are unfamiliar with. Give him/her the chance to discover a word’s meaning using the words and illustrations surrounding it. Examples of new words in The Hallelujah Flight include:




Making Connections:

A great way to keep your child engaged in the story is by making it applicable to their own life experiences. Ask your child if a certain part of the story reminds them of something that happened in his/her life. For example, when the airport crew laughs at James and Thomas, ask your child, “Can you think of a time when someone teased you for doing something that you wanted to do? What did you do about it? What do you think James and Thomas will do?”

You can also track the Flying Hoboes’ journey using the map in the front or back of the book! Each time they land in a new place, find that location on the map and see how far they have to go before they get to the Atlantic Ocean.

After Reading

Summarize and Interpret:

Ask these questions to gauge your child’s comprehension and processing of the story you have just read:

What was your favorite part of the story? Why?

What did people call James and Thomas? Why did they call them that?

What did they let people do in exchange for food and supplies along their journey?

What happened when they arrived in New York?

Why did they call it “The Hallelujah Flight”?

The determination and vision that these two pilots had is a great example for children reading this story. To make this point clear, you can ask your child, “Why don’t you think James and Thomas stopped even though people thought their idea was crazy? The next time someone thinks an idea that you have is silly, what will you do?” You can also discuss the topic of being prejudice, what that means, and why it isn’t good. You can ask, “Why didn’t some people want to help James and Thomas on their journey? Why is it important to be nice to everyone, even if they are different from us?”

Activity: Build a Cardboard Plane

Adapted from Small Fry


Supplies: 2 medium-sized cardboard boxes, packing tape, spray paint, acrylic paint, and x-acto knife.

With this activity, your child will be able to channel James and Thomas and go on an adventure of their own through the sky using his/her imagination!

  1. On one side of the box, cut off all of the flaps so that it is open. On the other side, put down two of the flaps to create a flat surface.
  2. Cut off one of the remaining flaps as well as half of each flap that is lying down. Be sure you are cutting off the halves that are closest to the flap that you just removed. Tape the remaining flaps together  and make sure they are secure.
  3. Cut out two semicircles on each side of the empty gap for arm holes.
  4. Cut two slits parallel to the top of the body on either side for the wings. Cut out two wings and make sure the ends have tabs that will fit into slits in the body of the plane. Then place the tabs into the slits, bend it down and tape it to the inside.
  5. Cut out a tail and cut a slit in the back of it. Cut out a small rectangle and slip it into the slit. Cut a slit into the back of the plane that will fit the length of the tail. Tape the tail to the inside of the body.
  6. Make two propellers and tape the ends together. Then cut out two different sized circles. Tape the ends of the propellers to the center of the larger circle and tape the smaller circle on top.
  7. For added fun, you can spray paint the plane any color you want and once the paint has dried, your child can decorate it however they choose! You can also attach two fabric straps to the top of the body from the front to the back that can act as a seat belt, but can also make it easier for your child to move around while wearing the plane.

Now your child is ready to use their imagination and fly through the sky just like the Flying Hoboes!