Although 11-year-old Henry Hershock hadn’t read Mike Graf’s books on a family’s adventures in the national parks, he planned to after hearing the author speak Monday.
Graf, a California writer for kids and young adults, has written 12 “realistic fiction” novels set in parks across the country. He spoke this week to pupils at Colter and Wilson elementary schools.
“It’s cool to have an author come into our school,” Colter fifth-grader Hershock said. “It’s neat that just because we live where we do we get to be in a book.”
Henry and his classmates were transported to several national parks during Graf’s hourlong presentation, which was jam-packed with facts. The writer and part-time TV weathercaster shared his writing tips and techniques with the students and also talked about how the parks have changed over time.
“National parks are places in our country that are so unique and beautiful people decided to protect them forever,” Graf said.
He spends two weeks in each place he plans to write about. He hikes, backpacks and talks to rangers, he told the students. He brings his tape recorder everywhere to record notes and observations.
“This is my favorite writing instrument,” he said, holding up his small silver recorder.
He calls his series “realistic fiction” because his characters are not real, but he does his best to provide lots of true information about each place.
“I put made-up characters in real life situations in my parks,” he said. “My job as an author is to take you there.”
The family in his books, the Parkers, consists of the mother, Kristen, father, Robert, and fraternal 9-year-old twins Morgan and James.
Something that’s not fair, Graf said, is that every year he writes a novel he is older but his characters remain the same age. What’s even more unfair, he said, is that he actually gets to visit the parks he’s writing about while his fictional family does not.
Graf climbed Half Dome in Yosemite so he could write about his two kid characters climbing it in his book “Harrowing Ascent of Half Dome: Yosemite National Park.”
That book also tells the story of the first wheelchair-bound person to climb Half Dome, Mark Wellman, who Graf interviewed. Wellman climbed the dome with special equipment — his trip to the top was accomplished by doing 9,000 pull-ups, Graf said.
He also talked about hiking in the Grand Canyon, which often can’t be done during the day because it’s too hot.
The other places he talked about were Mount Rushmore National Monument and the Great Smoky Mountains, Olympic, Glacier, Arches, Zion, Acadia, Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.
Glacier National Park is known for its glaciers and geography formed by glaciers, Graf said.
In 10 years, however, scientists say there will be no glaciers left, Graf told the students.
“Why are the glaciers going away?” he asked the kids.
“Global warming,” a girl answered.
He talked of his experiences climbing the Grand Teton and told students the story of Grizzly 399 and her daughter 610, and how 610 claimed one of 399’s cubs after a fight with a male bear.
“It became a grizzly adoption and made national news, so I put it in my story,” Graf said.
Fifth-grader Rain Oakley, 11, was enchanted by Graf’s talk.
“I thought it was really interesting,” she said. “It makes me want to go visit” the parks.
Teton County Library Foundation sponsored Graf’s visit to the Colter and Wilson schools.
“It’s such a fun connection to us living here near two great national parks,” Colter librarian Melissa Brumsted Snider said.