100 years of national parks in books and apps for kids

For The Baltimore Sun
Help your kids celebrate the National Park Service centennial with these books, apps.

Theodore Roosevelt, our 26th president, was a politician, an explorer, a soldier and an author — a busy guy. But throughout a life that took him from New York City to the remote Amazon basin, his love of two things — the outdoors and his family — was always apparent. His frequent letters to his six children were often illustrated with sketches of animals or camp life — an elk at the zoo or a companion fishing on a Louisiana bayou.

This year marks the centennial of the National Park Service, an agency that owes a lot to our 26th president, who put approximately 230,000,000 acres of U.S. land under public protection as national parks, monuments, forests and other areas during his presidency.

New guidebooks and coffee-table books have just been published to mark the occasion. And several charming new books written especially for kids let them explore these national treasures at their own pace.

'Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans, and Helped Cook Up the National Park Service'

By Annette Bay Pimentel, illustrated by Rich Lo

The true story of Tie Sing, the Chinese-American trail chef who kept an important delegation luxuriously fed on a two-week camping trip through Sequoia National Park — even after mule mishaps left him without much-needed food and supplies. This trip, led by tycoon and conservationist Stephen Mather, was organized to convince influential men of the need for a National Park Service, and it worked. It's hard to say what's more mouthwatering about this book — the shimmering, vibrant watercolors, or the descriptions of Tie Sing's marvelous meals. Maps and archive information enrich this fascinating story.

'Buddy Bison's Yellowstone Adventure'

By Ilona E. Holland

The facts about Yellowstone National Park, with its geysers, bears and bison, can be hard to believe. In this book, twins Elena and Christopher, accompanied by their park ranger aunt and Elena's stuffed (cut secretly alive) toy bison, Buddy, visit rainbow-hued hot springs and watch geysers erupt while keeping their eyes peeled for wildlife. Beautiful landscape photos are overlaid with cartoony illustrations to tell this silly story. Tons of information about the park's history and preservation are included in the back.

National Parks Guide, U.S.A.

Take an armchair tour — 24 of America's best-known parks are featured in this junior edition of National Geographic's best-selling guide, with the rest of the 400 park properties listed in the back. Get ranger tips on what to pack and wear, best places to spot wildlife and how to make the most of a trip to each park, whether you're the type to play it safe on a gentle trail or go to extremes at the top of the highest peak. Top-quality maps and photographs will inspire dreams of outdoor adventure.

'Junior Ranger Activity Book: Puzzles, Games, Facts and Tons More Fun Inspired by the U.S. National Parks'

Maybe the kid in your life isn't the passive-reader type. Some children just prefer more interactivity in their leisure pursuits, and that's where activity books like this one come in. Kids will learn about lots of fun things to do and see in the national parks while challenging themselves and others with multiple-choice trivia, telling jokes, and playing a wide variety of games. Going on a road trip? Give them a break from their screens and let them quiz you on everything from battlefields to birds of prey with this book.

'Preserving America' (series)

By Nate Frisch

Are the Badlands really bad? Why are the Rocky Mountains so rocky? Get to know the history and geology of each of 10 national parks in this series of short but fact-packed books. Learn about wildlife, plants and even fossils that you may encounter. Large color photos and archival images accompany insider knowledge about each park. Suggested activities, safety information and side trips round out these comprehensive little volumes. These books offer a perfect opportunity for kids to become the experts before a family or school visit.

'The White House: A Pop-Up of Our Nation's Home'

By Robert Sabuda

It's easy to forget that the president of the United States lives in a national park, but it's true. This intricately engineered book by pop-up master Sabuda sneaks readers into the East Room, the Lincoln Bedroom and the Oval Office to see what the great house is like when nobody else is around. Information about the significance and use of such areas as the Rose Garden and the North Facade is accompanied by the short poem "Inauguration Day" by Richard Watson Gilder. There are always hidden treats in a Sabuda pop-up — look for Dolley Madison saving George Washington's portrait and a view of the Washington Monument out a window.

Apps

We might as well face it — sometimes the best way to get information to kids is to beam it to them straight through their phones or a tablet. Luckily, the official National Park Service apps (available for Android devices, iPhone and iPad) are easy to use, although a little uneven in terms of content. Individual apps for some of the most popular parks, including Independence National Park in Philadelphia and the National Mall, offer guided tours and live information about park programs. The stunning Yellowstone app includes a live webcam as well as videos of all the geysers in action. These apps bring the parks to your pocket and show you what there is to see.

Paula Willey is a librarian at the Parkville branch of the Baltimore County Public Library. She writes about children's and teen literature for various national publications and online at unadulterated.us. She can be reached at pinkme@gmx.com.

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