Kiddosphere: Happy Birthday, National Park Service!
As a family that frequently went on camping trips and visited historical places (I identify with Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation), visiting national parks was part of my childhood experience. I have many fond memories of Shenandoah National Park (rained the entire time during one trip!), Rocky Mountain National Park (briefly snowed during our July trip!), and how could I forget the car trip and visit to Grand Canyon National Park and the Petrified Forest (we often stopped at rest stops for a picnic lunch; a stop in New Mexico taught me about desert heat when I reached for my second sandwich slice, which contained very dried out bread). When I moved to Virginia, visits to Shenandoah National Park in the fall became a staple. As I’ve learned more about the National Park Service (NPS), more destinations have been added to my “bucket list”: Acadia, Apostle Islands, Assateague, Denali (or any of the parks in Alaska), Mammoth Cave and Yellowstone, just to name a few (going back to the Grand Canyon is also on that list, because I’m sorry to admit that I did not appreciate it when I was a middle schooler!) . Until then, armchair travelers such as myself will have to satisfy our wanderlust with these magnificent books for children and adults about the NPS, in honor of its centennial:
Buddy Bison’s Yellowstone Adventure is just one of the many books published in this centennial year; Buddy Bison introduces readers to the sights and adventures of Yellowstone National Park. National Geographic Kids is one of my favorite publishers; their books are always creatively and attractively designed, and the information is jam-packed with fascinating tidbits.
I reviewed The Camping Trip That Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, And Our National Parks in April 2012; it’s an inspiring and revealing look at how the idea of a national park was created at a critical moment in our nation’s history. John Muir: America’s First Environmentalist is another excellent look at the famed naturalist.
Although Shenandoah is one of the crown jewels of the NPS, its creation has a rather dark and unfortunate history. In recent years, the visitors center has created exhibits and a short documentary that address the fact that people were forced out of their homes (although not without putting up a strong fight) in order to create the park. Grandpa’s Mountain (for children) and Shenandoah: A Story of Conservation and Betrayal (for adults) are both eye-opening looks at the losses endured by the families who originally lived on the land.
If you’d like a short introduction to the national parks, don’t miss M is for Majestic: A National Parks Alphabet (that existed as of 2003; several more parks have been established since then). If you’re familiar with Sleeping Bear Press’s alphabet series, you’ll know that the “story in rhyme” can be enjoyed by young readers, while the informational sidebars add fun facts to the experience.
Although Chincoteague is not part of the NPS (it is part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), Assateague Island is, which is as good as any excuse to include Misty of Chincoteague. Marguerite Henry’s classic tale of the annual pony swim made Virginia’s wild ponies internationally famous when it was published in 1947 (you can stay at the same inn in which Henry wrote her novel!).
I have not yet read Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans, And Helped Cook Up the National Parks Service; our copies have been super popular! This tribute to a Chinese-American chef who kept a team of researchers healthy during a crisis in what would become Yosemite (and for whom Sing Peak was named) has received tremendous reviews.
Just in time for the centennial is National Geographic Kids’s updated National Parks Guide U.S.A, which is a junior version of the comprehensive guide for adults. Parks are divided by region and include travel tips, where to find fossils, successful environmental achievements, and of course, fabulous photographs.
Park Scientists: Gila Monsters, Geysers, And Grizzly Bears in America’s Own Backyard, part of the magnificent Scientists in the Field series, is an insightful look at the natural scientists studying the unique animals that reside in our national parks.
I love the Where Is? spinoff of the wildly successful Who Was/Is series; Where is the Grand Canyon? is a fun overview of the development of the canyon, the Native American tribes who lived and still live there, and the establishment of the canyon as a national park.
Although no one (I’m sure) wants to see a species go extinct, the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone was controversial. To many people’s surprise and delight, once the wolves returned, the natural environment of the park deepened in diversity and blossomed, with many animals and plants thriving as a result of the wolves returning to the park. The Wolves Are Back is a gorgeously told and illustrated account of the controversy, the reintroduction process, and the enormous benefits reaped by the ecosystem. Jean Craighead George’s The Buffalo Are Back is a similarly beautiful look at the reintroduction of the buffalo to the Plains region (also on national park land).
We are fortunate to live near many national park sites; not just in Virginia, but also many that are ideal day trips. The NPS site is the best place to find not just parks, but also forests, monuments, and historic sites. Once you have determined your next journey, visit us to grab travel guides crammed with useful and intriguing information (I love Wikitravel and other online travel sites as much as the next person, but a good guidebook is hard to beat for reading pleasure, in addition to expert overviews of historical and cultural information). If you’re planning a trip close to home, take our guides on the Appalachian Trail, Blue Ridge Parkway, Chesapeake Bay, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Jamestown and Yorktown,Washington D.C. and Shenandoah. Many civil war sites in the area are part of the NPS, so Touring Virginia and West Virginia’s Civil War Sites should definitely be on your list. We have many park-specific guides, such as books focusing on Acadia National Park, Grand Canyon, Mammoth Cave, Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone and Zion and Bryce Canyon as well.
When I travel, I enjoy reading books about the area’s history and culture. Travelers to Yellowstone should check out Empire of Shadows: The Epic Story of Yellowstone and Lost in My Own Backyard: A Walk in Yellowstone National Park.
Making a visit to Gettysburg? In addition to the many historical looks at the battle, consider Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg, which is a thoughtful and moving personal journey through the battlefield.
The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks is on my never-ending to-be-read list; Terry Tempest Williams’s portraits of twelve national parks has been hailed for its deeply personal and eye-opening look at our national parks.
Finally, for brilliantly photographed and written general histories of the NPS, you must read
National Geographic The National Parks: An Illustrated History and The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (the companion volume to Ken Burns’s documentary).
Travel documentaries are perfect for both travel prep and armchair travel; we have many breathtaking DVDs about our beautiful national parks that are waiting for new viewers!
Next week, I’ll blog about forthcoming and newly released books (I was going to blog about that until I learned that the NPS centennial was August 25th!). Prepare your to-be-read lists!
Looking for more program highlights and staff suggestions for children and young adult readers? Make Kiddosphere your source for all the latest on what to read and what to do for kids!
Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library