This year marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. The best way to develop adults who care about the environment is to teach kids what nature can provide. It can cultivate a lifelong love of the outdoors. How can reading a book get kids outdoors?
To get kids interested, it has to be fun, Alt says, and it’s never too early to start. He should know—he and his wife hiked through Ireland with their toddler. Get the kids interested in the planning, too. They’ll look forward to the trip and you’ll have fewer “Are we there yet?” and “There’s nothing to do” comments headed your way.
“Use the outdoors to teach language skills to describe what the kids see, touch and feel. Let them smell the flowers, and feel the different textures plants have. The outdoors is a sacred place, so they should also learn to respect the environment and the animals they’ll see.
“For young children big enough to walk but too big to carry, the pace is a lot slower. Let the kids lead the way, get down to their level to see what they see and explore with them.
“Older kids love scavenger hunts. Let them help you research what to look for. Make a chart of which birds, trees, or flowers you can expect to spot and challenge the kids to check off as many as possible during the hike.” Alt realizes older kids—teens especially—can’t be separated from their smart phones, so use it to your advantage and let them post what they’re seeing on social media or to look up what kind of bird they saw. Remember, no selfies with the wildlife.
That’s the kind of information Alt has written in his non-fiction books about hiking, but his new Bubba Jones series is designed to get kids reading, interested in history, and enjoying the outdoors.
Bubba’s family has a secret—Papa (grandfather) Lewis can time-travel. Bubba knew that when Papa told stories, it felt like he was really there, not just hearing the tale, but time-travel? And there’s a family mystery to solve. These books are for third graders and older. Readers get to see Bubba meet wooly mammoths, Thomas Jefferson, and Lewis and Clark as Bubba is transported back in time. It’s an easy and painless way to show how different the world is now as the reader is caught up in the storyline.
Alt knows that most adventure books are aimed at boys, but Bubba’s little sister, Hug-a-Bug, is hiking right along with the rest of the family as an inspiration to girls. Imagine getting to trout fish with President Hoover!
“Kids might moan and groan about going for a family hike, so call it an adventure and it becomes fun and exciting instead. With the Bubba books, I wanted to weave history into the story without sounding like a school lesson. Bubba and Hug-a-Bug are able to see extinct animals, meet native Cherokee Indians and early settlers, and find out how the area was designated as a national park.”
In this year’s book—The Adventures of Bubba Jones: Time-Traveling Through the Shenandoah National Park—history, science, and ecology facts are sprinkled into the story as the kids meet Myron Avery, who supervised construction of the Appalachian Trail, and learn about the legendary women of Skyland and Shenandoah.
Alt shows writers and artists that SME (Subject Matter Experts) needn’t limit themselves to one area of expertise—non-fiction—sold only to those who share the same interests. His love of teaching, kids, history, and the outdoors has led to writing diverse fiction for kids. Since there’s a family mystery to solve too, the kids will look forward to the next book in the series, giving him a built-in audience.
At the back of the book there’s a map of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a curriculum guide for teachers, and chapter-by-chapter discussion questions. Alt knows his subject, his readers, and how to get his book in front of them.
Jeff Alt is a talented speaker, hiking expert, and the award-winning author of A Walk for Sunshine, Four Boots One Journey and Get Your Kids Hiking: How to Start Them Young and Keep it Fun. Alt’s adventures have been featured in media nationwide, including Discoverychannel.com, ESPN’s Inside America’s National Parks, Hallmark Channel, CNN-Radio, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, LA Times, USA Today, USA Radio Network, the AP, the Chicago Sun Times, Scholastic Parent & Child, and more.
He has walked the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail, the 218-mile John Muir Trail with his wife, and carried his 21-month-old daughter along the coast of Ireland on a family hike. His son was on the Appalachian Trail at six weeks of age.
The Adventures of Bubba Jones: Time-Traveling Through the Great Smoky Mountains, and Time-Traveling Through Shenandoah National Park are available now. Look for Acadia Park and Grand Canyon National Park in 2017 and 2018. Illustrations are by Hannah Tuohy.