GeekMom: National Parks and Other Places to Visit From Your Book Shelf

Last summer my family and I took a road trip from Maine to Wisconsin. We stopped at Niagara Falls (the Canadian side) on the way there and stopped at the birthplace of Thomas Edison on the way home. The kids had headphones on and listened to twenty-plus hours of The Story Pirates. We got to have Tim Hortons coffee in Canada, fried cheese curds in Wisconsin, we even got to go to the Jelly Belly factory. It went so well, I had planned a similar (though shorter) road trip this year to Pennsylvania so that we could see the sights of Sesame Place and Hershey Park. I think you can guess what happened to those plans. Whilst lamenting the loss of this trip, I came across a Google map put together by Randal Olson, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania back in 2016, which shows how to visit all the National Parks in a single trip. I briefly entertained the idea of purchasing an RV and homeschooling from the road for a year, before deciding that this big trip was probably going to have to wait a few years. The bookmark is saved as “Retirement” as that might be my best chance! 14,498 miles over a quickly traveled two months—I’d rather take my time.

Fortunately, my enthusiasm for National Parks does not have to wait. Thanks to a couple of new books from Gibbs Smith, my kids and I have been learning about (and plotting adventures in) the National Parks, some of which are right on our doorstep.

All Images: Sarah Pinault

National Parks and Monuments covers all 50 states and Washington DC. After a brief introduction to what we mean by parks, monuments, and memorials and where they come from, the rest of the book is divided into six regions by which the parks, monuments, and memorials are covered with detail, fun facts, and amazing pictures. The regions are neatly West, Midwest, South, Northeast, and Washington DC, with Alaska and Hawaii being clumped together. I had an RA in college in Maine who seriously thought that Alaska was an island off the coast of California, and in this book that is where it is pictured, like every other map. It may be worth explaining a little about the nature and sizing of maps early on in a child’s development, to avoid such a mistaken thought from reoccurring.

The book is a simple introduction to some of the most amazing places in our country, but it is a very basic book. Coverage of Ellis Island is done in a matter of sentences, so if you are looking for something that speaks more to the development and integrity of certain places, you are going to want to dive deeper elsewhere. It is completely politics-free, however, which is refreshing and helps me in my quest to raise kids who can see beyond the people framed in a certain time and place, to the ethos and beauty that we hope to perpetuate. The book calls our beloved Acadia National Park “The perfect blending of sea and land,” which is how we think of it on our annual visits. We were able to see places we had been, places we knew about, and discover things we had previously been unaware of like the Channel Islands National Park in Santa Barbara, CA from which you can see migratory blue whales and the Russel Cave National Monument in Alabama which is the earliest known human settlement in the Southern US. With each site, you are given the location, size, and date it was established.

Peterson’s Acadia and two of my loves in the actual park.

The second book we used as a companion to the informational guide was Seek and Find National Parks by Jorien Peterson. This covers nine of the parks—thankfully for us, Acadia was one of them—and offers you a chance to visit them virtually by providing a treasure map containing illustrations from the parks. Plants, animals, and landmarks are listed in a key for each park for you to find on the seek-and-find map. It’s like a Where’s Waldo experience for National Park enthusiasts. The artwork is beautiful and I am tempted to attempt to transfer one of the maps to a wall in our house where I was planning on hanging maps of the world. This book highlights what is unique about each park.

The glossary at the back of the book goes into great detail about the things you have searched for within, and in many cases goes into more detail than the first book. Each one is a deeper dive into the nine parks that are covered, with detail for older kids and a fun puzzle for younger ones. It’s a great thing to do as a family, and as we come out of a summer less traveled and a fall of much more virtual schooling, these books will make a great tool in your pseudo home school arsenal. The books are released on August 18, rated for ages 5 to 8 and 4 to 10 respectively, and are a great way to pull disparate age groups together to learn. My ten-year-old wanted a little more but was happy to go through them with his four-year-old sister, reminding her of our trips to Acadia and our trip to Gettysburg with his own memories of the places they were reading about.

From our perspective, the only downside to exploring the parks this way is the inability to buy a patch from each one. Though we will probably end up seeking these out as well!

GeekMom received an advanced copy of these books for review.

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