Author Interview: Christy Mihaly and the U.S. National Parks

by Ann Jacobus on February 9, 2016

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Did you know that 2016 is the 100th Anniversary of the U.S. National Park Service? Me, either. To help celebrate, National Geographic Kids is releasing a Junior Ranger Activity Book, by author Christy Mihaly.

Tell us about the National Geographic Kids Junior Ranger Activity Book and who will enjoy reading it. How might families employ it or teachers use it in the classroom?

It’s a 160-page paperback book, in large format, filled with colorful photos of the National Parks, maps, games, quizzes, cartoons, jokes, fun facts and trivia. There’s information about the animals and ecosystems of the parks, the history of the parks and the historical events that the parks commemorate. Most of the book focuses on the 59 national parks, but there’s also information about the 400 or so other units in the national park system: national historic sites and trails, parkways, memorials, historic trails, battlefields, on and on.

As with many of the National Geographic Kids books, there’s no author credit given. But it was a very exciting project to work on, and I’m really excited to see the book in print.

It would be great for any family or group planning a trip to a national park with kids. Teachers and parents could use it for other purposes, too. It’s intended to be engaging while conveying plenty of information about nature, science, history, and the wonders of the parks.

As you mentioned, 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the US National Park Service. (Some of the parks were created before the Park Service.) The United States basically invented the idea of a national park to preserve pristine places for all people’s enjoyment. Yellowstone wasn’t just this country’s first national park—it was the first national park in the world.

Cool! I had no idea. What is the Junior Ranger Program?

It’s a National Park Service program primarily for children ages 5 to 13, although people of all ages can participate. At most national parks, children can pick up a packet of activities to complete in the park. Every kid who finishes the activities can receive a Junior Ranger patch and certificate. There’s more information about the Junior Ranger program and other kid-friendly information on the National Park Service website, here: http://www.nps.gov/kids/index.cfm.

And by the way, part of the national parks’ celebration for 2016 is that every fourth grader in the country is eligible to receive a FREE “Every Kid in a Park” pass for free admission into all the parks for a year – with their families. Because getting outside is good for everyone.

Christy, as a Vermont resident and an outdoor enthusiast, what kind of research did you do?

I’m sad to say that my contract did not include a travel budget. I researched with old-fashioned books and extensive online resources. For many details, though, my memories and recollections of visits to favorite national parks colored my writing.

Author Christy Mihaly and family at the Bandolier National Monument in New Mexico.

Author Christy Mihaly and family at the Bandolier National Monument in New Mexico.

Do you have a favorite US Park? Which one and why?

I can’t answer that, Ann! It’s like asking which is your favorite child – or one favorite book. Each park is special, and for each there’s some compelling reason to preserve and protect it. Working on the book did make me want to visit Alaska to see some of the gorgeous wild lands up there. Wrangell St. Elias, the largest, has wilderness the size of Connecticut and Massachusetts combined.

How do you feel about long car trips with small children in the back?

Hah. Is this a trick question?

Yes.

happy family sitting in the car

Actually, I found car trips could be great family time. We sang songs – the sillier the better. We also played guessing games. When I was the driver, I usually lost because I had trouble keeping my mind on the game while driving . . . . But seriously, a book like Junior Ranger Activity Book could be a godsend with kids on a long car ride—especially if the trip involves a stop or two at a national park.

What was it like creating the games and activities?

Fun! It might sound like a big job, but I didn’t do it from scratch. I collected facts, questions, and interesting tidbits about the parks, and wove the best of what I discovered into NGK games and activities templates. For example, “Stump Your Parents” is a quiz they’ve used in prior books. And “Bet You Didn’t Know” is a regular NGK feature providing amazing facts. Our team also invented new themes, created Junior Ranger pages, and wrote lots of new content tying some of these elements together. I enjoyed coming up with intriguing items to pique kids’ interest. And I enjoyed inventing wrong answers for the multiple-choice questions. The most laborious part was keeping all the answers straight for listing in the back of the book.

I had targets for how many times to mention the various park units, making sure we covered a good diversity of parks. Similarly, I had to maintain a balance of information about science and history. Some pages feature park animals or types of plants or habitats. There are spreads about women’s history, arts in the parks, historic trails, battlefields, rocks, volcanoes, dinosaurs, seashells, movies filmed in the national parks—the list goes on. Fortunately, my job didn’t include photo research, though I made suggestions (e.g., species, park feature, President) for photographs to locate. And NGK provided maps, Funny Fill-In’s, mazes, and other art-based games.

Next: Jokes and trivia from the book, and more questions for Christy.

 

Christy Mihaly has published children’s stories, poems, and articles about nature, technology, and history. Her first picture book (rhyming nonfiction) is scheduled for a spring 2017 release from Holiday House. She has degrees in law and environmental studies and lives with her family in Vermont, where she has been a volunteer reading mentor and an environmental educator.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathy Halsey February 10, 2016 at 2:37 pm

So excited to see Christy interviewed. This book will be enjoyed by many kids and families. BRAVO!

Ann Jacobus February 10, 2016 at 3:42 pm

Completely agree, Kathy! This is a super family book. Thanks for stopping by.

Vivian Kirkfield February 10, 2016 at 9:14 pm

Woo-hoo…Chris we are seeing you everywhere…what a busy wonderful writer you are!!!

Tina Cho February 11, 2016 at 4:39 am

Congratulations, Christy! Looks like a wonderful book and resource for kids and teachers!

Christy Mihaly February 11, 2016 at 7:17 am

Thanks Ann, and Vivian, and Kathy, and Tina! This was such a fun project, and I hope that it helps persuade lots of families to get out into the parks this year.

Ann Jacobus February 11, 2016 at 8:16 am

Thank YOU, Christy! Part 2 of the interview is up tomorrow, 2-12.

Lisa Amstutz February 14, 2016 at 11:31 am

Great interview, Chris! Congrats on the book – it looks fabulous!

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