Jul 29, 2017

Our National Parks: In the Canyon and Other Wonders of Nature

It's midsummer. 
There's no better time to  gather 'round the old blog-campfire to share books about our amazing National Parks. The titles include a light-but-illuminating journey into the Grand Canyon and a pre-park-designation foray into the wilderness. In the first, the trails and travails are manageable, even for the young girl gracing the story in verse. It is fiction, but depicts realism in image and words. In the second, the effort to "tame and claim" the wild (and eventually preserve precious spaces) involves attempts at refinement and formality that defy imagination. It is an historically accurate portrayal of the people and places involved, with informative and impressive back matter.

Beachlane Books, 2015

IN THE CANYON is written by word-master Liz Garton Scanlon and illustrated by Ashley Wolff.
Scanlon's rhyming text blends expository content with a poetic adventure in this engaging story of a girl's travels to the "rocky cup" of the Grand Canyon floor. The illustrator's saturated colors and detailed images, often accented with heavy black lines and dramatic perspectives, will take readers along on a physically and emotionally engaging story. 
Back matter includes a glossary that clarifies some terms and phrasing. This is obviously written by someone who knows the Grand Canyon firsthand and shares the narrator's affection for it. The endpapers incorporate labels for significant landmarks within the canyon, and
the final spread allows for discussion of figurative language in which sprawling cities present opportunities for readers to explore their own "rocky" canyons and integrate memorable travels.

Charlesbridge Publishing, 2016
Next up, you'll really want to know more about this book and the individual who helped change our history. MOUNTAIN CHEF: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans, and Helped Cook Up the National Park Service  is written by Annette Bay Pimentel and illustrated by Rich Lo. 
The timing on this book is ideal, but it is also a book that will appeal over time. Published in 2016, during the 100th anniversary year of the National Parks, it also intersects with a cultural cooking craze that integrates gourmet elegance, natural ingredients, and celebrity chefs. It describes an adventure that sets a high bar for the current trend of GLAM-ping (glamour-camping).
This is a kid-friendly biography of esteemed Chinese chef Tie Sing, and it deserves the multiple 5-star ratings it has received. It was also named to the NCSS (National Council of Social Studies) notable books list for 2016-17.
The story of Sing's part in the creation of the National Park Service begins with his reputation as the best of the trail cooks of that era. As such, he was hired by a millionaire to prepare and serve extraordinary meals to an entourage of potential supporters (early lobbyists?). The goal was to help them appreciate and preserve our national wonders for future generations rather than exploit them for private gain. Sing's incomparable meals were served on linen cloth with china and crystal table service, all hauled on the backs of mules along with gourmet ingredients.

Sing's story is told with illustrations that reveal the natural setting but remain firmly focused on Tie, his talents, and the near-tragic events that challenged him.  His creativity and resilience allowed him to successfully salvage the campaign to secure his beloved mountains for posterity. Backmatter adds intriguing details, including the harsh reality of discrimination against Chinese (immigrants and US-born) at that time. Even though Tie was a native born American citizen, his rights were stripped away because of his descent from immigrants and his surname.

Another author who appreciated and championed the value of the National Park Service is the incomparable Jean Craighead George. Together with the remarkable artist/illustrator Wendell Minor, she created picture books (and other formats) that celebrated, documented, and warned readers about the need for the parks to preserve and protect the complex wildlife within their boundaries. You can read about some of those powerful picture books in this post from several years ago, here.

Whether you've been park-trekking all summer or have never set foot in a single preserve, these books will make them matter to you. If you're already a committed supporter, you'll find your engagement swell. If you've managed to live contentedly without much thought for these resources, especially with warnings of budget cuts  coming soon (deep, stark cuts), these b looks are all the more important for you to read. 
And to share with young people.
It's their heritage, their world that's at stake. 

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