How My Books Spent Their Summer Vacation
By Jennifer Bergen, Children’s Services Manager
My summer vacation included taking advantage of my fourth grader’s access to National Parks. The U.S. National Park Service program “Every Kid in a Park” is a fabulous opportunity for families. If you have a fourth grader this year, just go to everykidinapark.gov and have your child complete their simple adventure diary game online. Print out their free pass, which allows the whole family a full year to see national lands and waters. With Wyatt’s help, we planned a trip that included two national parks and some other interesting sites along the way.
Our first stop was Cawker City, Kansas. You know the spot – the legendary home of The World’s Largest Ball of Twine. How did I live in Kansas this long without making this pilgrimage? My youngest son Owen even got to add one “round” of twine, about 43 feet, with the help of a local twine volunteer. The ball of twine is famous enough to make it into movie scenes, cartoons, pop culture references, and even a few books at the library. Using Hoopla, you can download a free documentary about Cawker City’s number one tourist attraction. For fun, pick up the first book in Dan Gutman’s middle grade series, “The Genius Files: Unstoppable Mission.” As twins Coke and Pepsi McDonald try to solve a mystery while being chased by “murderous lunatics,” they stop in Kansas at Lebanon (the geographic center of the U. S.) and Cawker City. In fact, Gutman’s book is practically a catalog of weirdest tourist attractions in the states, so your kids might get some quirky ideas of where to visit next.
As we continued, we were impressed when the giant heads of Mount Rushmore National Memorial first came into view. We had checked out books on places we planned to visit, including “Mount Rushmore” by Joanne Mattern, so we knew a few things about it when we arrived. In the Children’s Geography Neighborhood, you can find great nonfiction to stir your child’s curiosity, like this series, “Symbols of Freedom,” which also includes “The White House,” “Statue of Liberty,” “St. Louis Gateway Arch” and more.
Maybe your family went to one of these other national hot spots. If you didn’t visit the library before you left, it is still fun afterwards to bring home a pile of books based on the places you’ve visited. “Discover America State by State” is a popular series that goes through a state or region with large, colorful illustrations on each page. It can be read aloud to younger kids using the larger text, or read in detail with 1-2 paragraphs of facts in each sidebar. In “M is for Mount Rushmore: A South Dakota Alphabet,” the book explores a variety of topics from native peoples, to specific towns and lakes, to Wall Drug, the world’s largest drug store.
We were finally able to use Wyatt’s cool park pass at our next two destinations and saved more than $100. We traveled first through Grand Teton National Park, where we discovered a beautiful landscape with namesakes for me and Owen – Lake Jenny and Mount Owen. It was as serene a moment as one could share with two lively boys. They were amazed by the clear, pure water of the lake. We had been looking at titles from the “Visitor Guides” series – “Welcome to Grand Teton National Park,” and “Welcome to Yellowstone National Park.” The books showed my kids what to be on the lookout for and gave some history, geology and wildlife background about the area. A section about the 1988 Yellowstone fire helped us understand what we were looking at when we came across hillsides of black and gray trees. Nothing quite prepared us for the stench of Mud Volcano, but now we know about hydrogen sulfide, which will lead us to another library trip to learn more about that.
As we left town through Cody, Wyoming, we checked out the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and found even more to pique our curiosity about the animals of the area, Buffalo Bill and the Wild West Show, and the Plains Indians. And yes, that meant more books again. The History Neighborhood is full of tie-ins to all the places we visited where famous and infamous events took place and people made their mark. I’m just finishing Andrea Warren’s “The Boy Who Became Buffalo Bill: Growing up Bill Cody in Bleeding Kansas.” Our final stop was the Buffalo Bill statue in Oakley, Kansas, which was beautiful and impressive, and also meant we were close to home. One more trip to the library meant getting final summer reading prizes, and a few more days of lazy reading before school begins.