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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Mike Graf & National Parks

You might have overlooked Mike Graf’s Adventures with the Parkers series  initially so I wanted to make sure Book Cover: Eye of the Grizzlyyou took the time to study them then to order more and put them in students’ hands. Remember growing up and reading about exotic places? Most of us decided to either go visit them as adults or live vicariously through more books. With so much attention to videogames and fantasy worlds in the past decade, our students have not been exposed to the exciting adventure of touring our national parks. 
Book Cover: Tail of the Scorpion
Mike Graf is the author of this series set in various National Parks. I read Eye of the Grizzly: YELLOWSTONE, and Tail of the Scorpion: GRAND CANYON published by Fulcrum Publishing. Both of these titles were excellent and very appropriate for grades 4-6. My 7th graders are interested in these and have insisted on reading over my shoulder every time I pick up these books. Information was presented in such an interesting way, that I felt compelled to continue reading to learn more about the parks.

The full-color illustrations intermingled with black and white photographs, drawings, factoids, and maps draw students into the books. These 94-page books are not picture books but utilize varying fonts and sidebars to create a nonfiction-type experience for a fictional chapter book. They balance informational material with a family’s fictional account of a visit to each of the parks. 

The adventures encountered occur through natural activities grounded in the author’s research and personal experiences. Each fictional title includes sample diary pages from the two children, lists of the top things to do in each park, and sidebars of factual information.  The format of these titles is unique, but the two copies I examined were in 7×9" paperbacks. I don’t want you to miss these titles due to their binding. They would make excellent selections for state student reader’s choice award lists particularly if your state contains or borders one of these parks. 

Two additional titles in this series that are already available include:
Danger in the Narrows (Bryce and Zion parks)Book Cover: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Harrowing Ascent of Half-Dome (Yosemite park). 

I can’t wait until this spring when Mike Graf’s newest Parkers adventures in the Great Smoky National Park and in Olympic National Park are published. In the meantime, I can review Mike Graf’s National Park series written for Capstone Press and his Great Smoky Mountains title written in 2003 intended for a much younger audience.

While I was reading Mike Graf’s series, I was also reading Enslow’s series America’s National Parks which is part of their My Report Links division. I love this series. It is a perfect stepping stone after reading Mike Graf’s series. While I was reading Eye of the Grizzly, I couldn’t get enough information about Yellowstone National Park so I excitedly opened the Enslow My Report Links: Yellowstone National Park. Written for grades six and up, this was the perfect next step. 

I found both titles complementary. A good school library collection should include both sets. We need to be stirring our students sense of adventure, desire to connect with nature, and yearning to be actively involved in the envir. 

We don’t have to set juvenile crime mysteries  in parks like the National Geographic series or the adult books by Nevada Barr to make parks interesting. Don’t get me wrong, I love both of those series for their mystery aspects, but they didn’t make me want to get off my sofa and travel. I am very content to wait for the next Anna Pigeon in the series to come out so I can lazily experience life with no insect bites or poison ivy. Mike Graf’s books make me want to immediately book a trip to the park.

We do need to help expose our students to the wonders of nature. Since we are a society of obese people, perhaps we need more library materials on going outside. Have you checked out the resources available from the National Environmental Education Foundation? Perhaps the developers of Wii games would like to meet up with author Mike Graf to develop a new type of physical interaction in a virtual world?