The Mysteries in Our National Parks series tells the heart-pounding adventures of brother-and-sisters, 12-year old Jack and 11-year-old Ashley Landon. Traveling with their mother, Olivia, a wildlife biologist, and their father, Steven, a nature photographer, the kids visit many of the country’s magnificent National Parks where they always seem to stumble upon a puzzle that only they can solve.
From confronting environmental challenges like the effect of snowmobiles in Alaska’s Denali park, speedboaters injuring manatees in Florida’s Everglades, or wild white mustangs in Utah’s Zion, the Landon’s adventures will keep kids on the edge of their seats while they learn about our country’s natural heritage and the role we all have in understanding and protecting it for the future.
In anticipation of our trip to Florida this past spring, we enjoyed reading Deadly Waters: A Mystery in Everglades National Park. Like all of the books in the series, it addresses environmental issues relevant to the location as well as provides a great description of the Everglades. Each chapter ends with a “cliff hanger” assuring the kids will want to keep turning pages. Don’t just take my word for it, my daughter wrote her own review of the book on her blog.
Another book we have enjoyed in the series is Wolf Stalker: A Mystery in Yellowstone National Park. It gets off to a fast-paced start when someone shoots and wounds one of the wolves recently reintroduced into the park. Jack and Ashley accompany their parents to Yellowstone Park when Mrs. Landon is called in to investigate the incident.
Another theme that is woven into each story is that the Landons are a foster family. Each story introduces us to a child who is living with the Landons temporarily. The exact circumstances vary yet as the Landons integrate this young person into their family, their presence becomes crucial to the outcome of the mystery.
The series has pulled us in and we look forward to reading more as they become available. These exciting books emphasize the natural beauty and dangers of the wild while also incorporating a few survival tips.
Lessons and Activities
Skurzynski’s books work well for kids’ book club with each student reading a different title and sharing a brief synopsis. There are many activities that lend themselves well to mini-lessons. I share a few ideas here:
- Learn more about the environmental issue addressed in the book – write an expository report
- Research an animal (wolf, manatee, etc.) and design an informative poster
- For older students, focus on one literary element (character, plot, setting, etc.) and together orally analyze that element
- Find out more about the National Park Service. How long has it been in existence? What is its main purpose? What do you think it would be like to be a park ranger?
- Research the history and physical layout of a National Park. Draw a map of the park and label the geographical features, park headquarters, or make an illustrated time line of the park’s history.
- Visit the website of a National Park and explore some of the distance learning activities and lesson ideas.
- Write a letter to a park ranger at a National Park to learn more.
- Become a Junior Ranger at a National Park near you or become a Web Ranger.
“May you live in interesting times.” That ambiguous wish was not meant to be kind, because interesting times can be difficult. You and I certainly live in interesting times – dangerous, challenging, and fascinating. ~ Gloria Skurzynski
Gloria Skurzynski is the author of more than fifty books for children and young adults, including Virtual War, a popular science fiction thriller series. The Mysteries in Our National Parks series is a collaboration with her daughter, Elaine Ferguson. It is published by the National Geographic Society who wanted to reach out to young readers who might not be attracted to a straight, nonfiction presentation. Packaging facts into a fast-paced adventure has turned out to be a recipe for success.
For more fun literature connections, visit the iHomeschool Network linkup, A Book and Big Idea: Summer