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Great Smoky Mountains by Mike Graf and a title for Naturalist learners

As I mentioned in my last blog post on Naturalist Learning Styles, one of my top picks for elementary naturalists is Mike Graf’s series Adventures with the Parkers which is available from Fulcrum Publishing. You seriously need every one of this series in your library, no matter which national park you are near.

Living in Tennessee, I was thrilled to read his latest book set in our national parks – Great Smoky Mountains: Ridge Runner Rescue (Adventures With the Parkers)
by Mike Graf. Reading level: Ages 9-12 Paperback: 96 pages Publisher: Fulcrum Pub (March 31, 2009) 

Readers of this blog know I greatly respect Mike Graf. I blogged about him as an author and educator and also blogged about his series last November. I’d love to bring Mike Graf to the Nashville area schools to speak. Anyone interested in joining me? 

Currently his works include the following national parks:

  • Olympic National Park
  • Great Smoky Mountains national Park
  • Bryce & Zion
  • Grand Canyon
  • Yosemite
  • Yellowstone
  • Glacier (coming in 2010)
  • Rocky Mountain (coming in 2010)

There is a great review of the Great Smoky Mountains in the Savannah Morning News by Terri Schlichenmeyer. I don’t pretend to be a reviewer. I am a commenter about books and how they "work" in school libraries and with chidren. Still, I want to share a bit about this book.

Morgan and James are twins (sister and brother) who travel with their parents to America’s national parks. This trip they journey through part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and even hike part of the Appalachian trail.* There are photographs, maps, and drawings throughout the pages to enable non-linguistic learners. 

Science lovers will embrace the flora and fauna described throughout this fictional story. While James focuses upon the famous salamanders of the Smokies, Morgan appreciates the moths and butterflies. Check out this great site on Hellbenders by Jeff Humphries! Don’t you love being able to share unusual salamanders with students? 

 I know elementary students study these animals so this can be easily integrated. This title is an entomologists dream as we learn about a wide variety of insects including fireflies and ticks. (This title provided some background knowledge I needed while viewing an episode of House, too) Did you know that synchronous fireflies are one of the most famous attractions in the Smokies? Did you know that California has no fireflies?

Journals are incorporated throughout this series as we read Morgan’s entries. In addition, this title features historical records from the twins great-grandfather’s journal kept while part of the CCC, or Civilian Conservation Corps, during the Great Depression.

Historical and geological sites are described in such a way that the learner will yearn to travel there and see these himself (or herself). Some of the sites include waterfalls, Chimney Top, and the Clingmans Dome. At the end of the book, Morgan and James brainstorm their Top Ten List of favorite sights. Making lists is an important part of language arts and I’m glad to see it included here.
What AASL 21st Century Learner Standards would I incorporate with a unit involving this title? 

Standard 2
Draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations, and create new knowledge.  I think teachers could incorporate journal writing and research integrating science, social studies, and language arts skills along with these:


  • Continue an inquiry based research process by applying critical-thinking skills to information and knowledge in order to construct new understandings, draw conclusions, and create new knowledge. 
    Organize knowledge so it is useful.
    Use strategies to form conlusions from information and appy knowledge to curricular areas, real-world situations, and further investigations.


  • Incorporate both divergent and convergent thinking to formulate alternative conclusions and test them against the evidence.
  • Demonstrate personal productivity by completing products to express learning.


  • Connect understanding to the real world.
  • Use valid information and reasoned conclusions to make ethical decisions.

Self-Assessment Strategies:

  • Reflect on systematic process, and assess for completeness of investigation.
  • Recognize new knowledge and understanding.

I received the press release for this book before the title arrived due to a mailing glitch. It was frustrating because I was very excitedly waiting for this title set in the Smokies. I’m also trying to convince Fulcrum Pub to exhibit at AASL in Charlotte, NC for the AASL national conference. We need to see more books with a naturalist viewpoint and they publish a large variety of appealing titles. So far the publishers don’t seem to view the school librarians as a vitally important market worth sending their best authors and exhibitors. Maybe you should comment here asking them to attend so they hear our voices. I’m not above using our blogs as rallying points. I consider it vital that we provide more naturalist resources in our school libraries and that we reach out to ask more vendors to share their wares. Don’t you?

*Halfway to the Sky by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is another favorite fiction title where the characters hike the Appalachian Trail.