Friday, February 02, 2007

Chico writer explores national parks in books designed for pre-teens


Prolific children's book author Mike Graf, who teaches child development at Chico State University, is publishing a series of beautifully designed and illustrated stories about the national parks. The books are already winning awards.

The series is called "Adventures with the Parkers," and features the fictional family of Bob and Kristen Parker and their twins, fourth-grader Morgan and her brother James. The first is called "Bryce and Zion: Danger in the Narrows" and the second, "Grand Canyon: Tail of the Scorpion." Each is $9.95 in paperback from Fulcrum Publishing; forthcoming titles include "Yellowstone: Eye of the Grizzly" and "Yosemite: Harrowing Ascent of Half Dome," both scheduled for March release.

The first two "Adventures with the Parkers" books were recipients of the "Teachers' Choice Awards for the Family" for 2006; and "Scorpion" placed as a finalist in 2006 at in the children's book category as one of the best books for children in 2006.

According to Graf's Web site,, the author "has backpacked the world's national parks, interviewed storm-chasers and special-effects wizards, met the last surviving Angel Island immigrant, rafted through spectacular caves, researched wolf restoration, rock-climbed in Yosemite, explored ghost towns" and has had a stint as a local TV weatherman.

"Scorpion" contains dozens of full-color and black and white photographs, along with sketches by Marjorie Leggitt, illustrating some of the most important and interesting features of the Grand Canyon. Set in the context of a family outing to a national park, the stories include diary entries from James (who wants to be a reporter) and Morgan, with sidebars throughout that amplify some of the aspects of the story.

On the way to the park, for instance, the family listens to the "Grand Canyon Suite" by Ferde Grofé, and an insert tells readers about the Painted Desert, which "stretches from southeast of the Grand Canyon to near the New Mexico border. Minerals in the soil make it rainbow colored." There's also a box about Grofé himself, noting that the most famous part of his most famous suite "is the 'On the Trail' section, which has the clip-clop sound of hooves."

The Parker family arrives at the Grand Canyon Lodge (first opened in 1928 and rebuilt after a fire in 1932) and, after an abundance of sightseeing, Dad, Morgan and James are ready for a hike down the Canyon, while Mom stays topside to do some long-anticipated painting.
The reader is told that "hikers should not attempt to hike down to the river and back in one day. While hiking down may seem easy, hiking up can be extremely difficult. It is 7.1 miles and 4,650 feet of climbing from Phantom Ranch to the top of the South Kaibab Trail, with no water available along the way."

During their hike the Parkers befriend an older couple who have run out of water; Morgan starts reading "Brighty of the Grand Canyon" by Marguerite Henry, about a very special burro; the hikers use an ultraviolet light to see innumerable little scorpions pretty much camouflaged in normal light; and James becomes ill for a time in the high heat.

Along the way the reader is treated to magnificent full-color images of the ages-old Canyon and some of its denizens (including condors). The book is impressive in its simple, interesting storyline and pacing, and its selection of facts. It's an ideal gift for a pre-teen; just be prepared to change your summer vacation plans!

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission. Posted by Picasa

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