Book Review: Subpar Parks

Store - Subpar Parks - Amber Share Design

Amber Share was looking for some artistic direction as an illustrator and designer when she began to notice some one-star negative reviews left on sites for our National Parks. It intrigued her that anyone would leave a negative review for such national treasures and this inquiry began her work on Subpar Parks, first as an Instagram feed and then as a book.

The new book features Share’s lovely illustrations of different parks with the terrible reviews featured (with reviewer names and identifications left off), and then her snarky response to the observations of those who bothered to write a review. She clearly loves our National Parks and can’t fathom a negative experience, but then turns that into art.

Subpar Parks — Amber Share | Letterer Illustrator Designer ...

Some favorites of mine from the book:

  • “It looks nothing like the license plate.”  (Arches National Park)
  • “A hole. A very, very large hole.” (Grand Canyon National Park)
  • “A green statue and that’s it.” (Statue of Liberty National Monument)
  • “Mountains not nearly tall enough.” (Gates of the Arctic National Park)
  • “Don’t even get to touch lava.” (Hawaii Volcanoes National Park)

But the book is not all snark and pushback.

Share has done her time in National Parks as a visitor and she has done her research, too. Each chapter on a park (the book is divided into regions of the United States) comes with interesting information and anecdotes, as well as connections to the native heritages of the land, and she adds helpful advice from park rangers on when best to visit and where, and what to remember about a given site.

Subpar Parks: National Parks and Their One-Star Reviews ...

I thoroughly enjoyed her illustrations — muted colored hues as her palette and soft, evocative artwork that captures the essence of the places as a contrast to the words of the negative reviewers. She has a real cohesive style that connects the pieces together in an engaging way. You see our National Parks from a new view.

Subpar Parks 6 - The RV Atlas

I’m tempted to give this a subpar review, just to keep with the theme of Share’s work, but I won’t, since Subpar Parks is a fun and interesting and informative read all around. Five stars.

ALSO: Did you know Write Out 2021 is kicking off tomorrow (Sunday, October 10)? It’s a free, place-based, online activity for teachers, students and the public. Write Out is a partnership between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. More info:

Peace (reviewed and refuted),

Book Review: Diary of a Young Naturalist

Buy Diary of a Young Naturalist: WINNER OF THE 2020 ...

Dara McAnulty has a keen eye for the natural world and a passion that spills out and over every single entry in his book, Diary of a Young Naturalist. In writing about nature, he is also writing about himself, a teenager on the autism spectrum whose writing voice brings us into his unique observations.

As a teacher, I was attuned to McAnulty’s descriptions of how difficult it often was for him as a functioning autistic student to be in a traditional school setting, where his autism made the general level of noise, the connecting with other students, and the rigid systems of school a daily and difficult challenge, and I admired how he (with his mother’s help) found a path forward for himself.

His exuberance of learning and knowledge and love of the natural world comes through whenever he brings us out on forest trails or when he is helping professionals with tracking birds or even just sitting in gardens, observing both the larger patterns of the world or the tiniest moments of wonder. His own realization that writing (first as a blog, then a journal, then this book) helps him to make sense of patterns amid the noise resonated with my own writing heart, too.

McAnulty, who continues to write and publish, demonstrates how finding a passion and following those threads, through action and writing and more, can instill meaning in a young life, and forge a direction forward. This book is a call for all of us to not only observe the natural world, but to care for it, too, and in doing so, maybe be more attuned to each other, in all of our different perspectives.

Once you “hear” McAnulty’s voice on the page, you won’t forget him, and you may be inspired to slow down and make your own notes on the wildlife, the foliage, the insects, the world. Anyone can be a naturalist. You just need to be ready for it.

Peace (under leaves and woods),

PS — Do you have nature-curious kids in your classroom or your family? Consider joining in the Write Out project that kicks off on Sunday and runs for two weeks as a collaboration between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. All activities and resources are free.

Come ‘Write Out’ with Us: October 10-24

WriteOut: Palettes Storyboards Cadences

If you have been following my blog for the past few years, you know that I am a facilitator with the National Writing Project/National Park Service’s Write Out adventures, which take place each October. This year, it is coming October 10 and running through October 24, with the National Day on Writing on October 20 right in the middle of it all (well, sort of just past the middle).

I want to invite you to join us. It’s all free, and teachers and community groups can choose what inspires them to think about place-based activities. We will have daily video writing prompts from National Park Rangers (these are great for easy classroom writing inspirations), Twitter chats on Thursday nights, Facebook Live presentations, and tons of other resources and ideas.

Sign up for information and newsletters at the Write Out site:

The connecting theme this year comes from the National Park Service: Palettes, Storyboards and Cadences. I find these ideas interesting and evocative, if a little slippery, and I hope the notions of colors, stories and sound can open up some lines of inquiry that connect writers to rural and urban spaces.

WriteOut: Palettes

WriteOut: Storyboarding

WriteOut: Cadences

Peace (and place),

Slice of Life: The Abolitionist Bike Tour

Abolitionist Bike Tour Sept2021(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

My wife and I biked our way through pathways of local history the other day.

Although we know some of the past echoes of the Abolitionist Movement in one of the villages of our small Western Massachusetts city, we learned a whole lot more when we joined in a three-hour biking tour that visited stops where important people either lived (Sojourner Truth, David Ruggles, etc.) or visited (Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, etc.) in the 1800s as the push to end slavery was just taking hold in the north.

This ride was sponsored both by our local rail trail association and the David Ruggles Center, which has tons of information about the “free-thinking association” that sprung up in Florence, Massachusetts, that brought many forward-thinking people to this area for work and to live, and to become ardent activists in the movement. More than a few houses here were also part of the Underground Railroad, and Florence is part of the official Network to Freedom of the National Park Service (which I didn’t know).

As we biked with about 30 people, we stopped at different homes and locations, where a representative of the David Ruggles Center for History & Education brought out pictures and read quotes and gave context to the lives of so many of the people in this particular local history story. Ruggles, for example, was a black man who worked to help freed and escaped slaves. He came to this area to start a Water Cure operation that was quite successful, and then used his many contacts in Boston and New York City to help support the core group of leaders for the Utopian community that sprang up here.

The Northampton Association of Education and Industry was a group way before its time. Women were equal to men in all aspects, and children were both educated in academics and in work, and pay was distributed equally among members. They ran different mills (silk, etc.) and held raucous meetings of debate.

Our bike ride took place on such a beautiful day, and even ending the tour in a cemetery could not dampen the understanding that our small city is more important to history than even we understood before setting out that morning.

There are self-guided and virtual tours available, and the Ruggles Center has recently used grants to complete and publish a comprehensive, primary source-focused curriculum for middle and high school students.

Sometimes, you see your place in a different light, if you take the time to notice.

Peace (pedal forward),

Playing with Nature Photos and Color Palettes

In October, this year’s Write Out project has a theme of “palettes, storyboards and cadences” — I will share more about Write Out in another post but it is a free two-week place-based online activity in collaboration between National Writing Project an the National Park Service — and the Write Out facilitators (I am one) behind the scenes are sussing out how best to engage teachers, students, families, communities in these thematic ideas (which come from the Park Service’s October themes).

Thanks to my Write Out colleague, Becki, we’ve been tinkering around with a cool tool from Adobe that allows you to upload and image, and it pulls out the color palettes from your photo. It’s pretty intriguing, and a good tool for Write Out.

I kept going, and wondered if I could take that palette information and create different forms, turning the palette into remix, and then layering one on top of the other, so the colors change but not the objects in the image (like the leaf). I used an earlier Silent Sunday photo.

I like how the video composition came out – it has a meditative cadence (another Write Out theme!) to it.

Tools used:

Peace (tinkering around the color wheel),

Book Review: World of Wonders (In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks and Other Astonishments)

If beautiful words were shimmers of light, this book would be luminescent. Maybe that’s a bit of hyperbole on my part for Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s book, World of Wonders (In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments), but some of these chapters just sing with poetry and such insight, as Nezhukumatathil explores her own life with connections to the Natural World, that I could barely put the book down.

(Perhaps this is also because I had recently finished with the Write Out Project or because the political landscape required some respite into something more lovely than my news feeds.)

Nezhukumatathil’s explorations into such plants and creatures as Dragon Fruit, Comb Jellies, Narwhals, Dancing Frogs, Whale Sharks, Cara Cara Oranges, and more — all situated in ways that make connections to her life as young Indian-American girl of immigrant parents, and then as academic, as wife, and then as mother — are so effective at times, it often takes the reader’s breath away.

Not every piece in this collection is a home run — some feel a bit like a stretch as she works to make connections — but when the writing works, well, wow. Her writing flows so beautifully off the page, and you can tell she is also a poet of insight.

There’s an underlying theme of acceptance running through each of the pieces of the strange in the world, of bringing that curiosity into our daily lives through inquiry and forgiveness, of understanding our places as people in the world that is larger and more diverse than we may ever truly know.

Nezhukumatathil opens and ends with stories of fireflies, and in her last chapter, she notes how many of her students that she works with not only hadn’t seen fireflies, but didn’t believe her that they even existed. And they live in places where a walk to the edge of the neighborhood would have revealed more magic than the video games and movies they were spending their time watching.

Nezhukumatathil is careful not to judge these children of the modern age (and maybe, us, too), but she is effective in sensing the things we are losing when we lose touch with the Natural World. And in reminding us to go outside and look for the magic.

Peace (seeking it at night),

After WriteOut: Four Videos from the Springfield Armory

I co-facilitated a virtual Writing Marathon for teachers and park rangers in our partnership between Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the Springfield Armory National Historic Site for the National Day on Writing last month.

Some folks, and some students, are still using the space to write. One element that I loved was that a handful of park rangers from the Springfield Armory took the video camera outside, to give some insights into the historic grounds in order to introduce some writing prompts. We learn about WOWs, and the iron fence barrier, the old buildings at the property, and the objects designed at the site.

Here are four of the videos that inspired writing:


This project was connected to Write Out, too, where many park rangers from around the country helped facilitate writing prompts through video introductions. See more.

Peace (thinking of connections),

Write Out Ranger Writing Prompts (the full collection)

Write Out 2020 officially ended yesterday but the resources and videos and writing prompts developed for this year will remain at the Write Out website, so if you were just swamped or knew you might come back some other day, no worries.

I really enjoyed the 13 different writing prompts introduced by National Park rangers from around the country. My students used some of these on the mornings they were at home, doing independent learning, and the responses were lovely to read as they engaged with the questions. Now, they are finishing up writing postcards to various rangers, and I will be packaging them up and mailing them off in the next week or so.

The slideshow gathers together all of the prompts. You can also always access each individual prompt at the Write Out website, or use the link to this show as you need.

Peace (sharing inspiration),

WriteOut Walk in the Woods

Fall Hike 2020

The other day, my wife and I took our puppy for a hike in the woods in our neighborhood, and it was just a beautiful Autumn day. We would do this on any day, but with Write Out underway, I made sure to grab some photos from the walk.

Fall Hike 2020Fall Hike 2020Fall Hike 2020

We noticed that some trees had some tags on them, as the local nature group teaches hikers about the woods.

Fall Hike 2020

Peace (outside, in),