Our Great Big Backyard

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
Our Great Big Backyard Book Poster Image
National Parks help open girl to nature in cute family tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Shows the natural features and wildlife of several national parks, including Florida's Everglades, Arizona's Grand Canyon, Yellowstone in Wyoming, and Yosemite in California. A list of states and their national parks is provided at the back, and a map of the United States appears on the endpapers. 

Positive Messages

"Get out there!" It's fun to go to new places and see new things. Turn off your screen/device and look around so you don't miss anything. It's fun to play and explore outside. Family vacations are fun, even if your parents sing along to show tunes in the car.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jane's parents and brother are always up for a good time and discovering new things. They're kind and patient with Jane even when she's grumpy or ignoring them while focused solely on her iPad. Jane shows she can be wowed by natural beauty and changes her attitude midway through the trip as she discovers the wonders of the natural world.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Our Great Big Backyard, by former First Lady Laura Bush and her daughter, Today Show correspondent Jenna Bush Hager, is a colorful picture book narrated by a young girl named Jane, whose family road trip to several national parks derails her plans for a summer of playing video games and communicating online with her friends. But once her dad shows her the stars over Texas' Big Bend National Park and she puts her devices down, she discovers the sky, rivers, mountains, desert, and wildlife around her, enjoys playing with her little brother, and doesn't mind being silly with her fun-loving parents. It's a gentle message to "get out there," at home or on the road. 

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What's the story?

Jane's a tween who loves her iPad and video games and is planning her summer around them when she learns her parents have arranged for what they're calling "The Great American Road Trip," a family vacation camping and visiting several U.S. National Parks. She starts off glued to screens in the backseat instead of to the view, until one night in Big Bend National Park her dad has her look at the stars through a telescope and she's amazed. For the rest of the trip she packs away her iPad, stops using her mom's phone, and starts enjoying all that the parks (Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, and so on) and nature have to offer, along with her little brother. When she gets home, she has a backyard campout to tell her friends all about it. 

Is it any good?

This ode to wholesome family fun and exciting national parks shows what a great time you can have exploring natural places. Its message to put down your devices, "get out there,"  and engage in imaginative play comes across with a fairly light touch, a bit of humor ("What did the ranger say to the skunk? Smell you later, take a hike!"), and some solid facts ("Americans call this a buffalo, but it is a bison.")

Illustrations by Jacqueline Rogers offer lots to look at and a few gags, as well as reflecting what the kids are imagining -- for example, picturing them as pirates while river-rafting down the Colorado River and as astronauts on Mars while they climb red rocks in the desert. The book includes a list of states and their national parks at the back, a couple of online resources for planning a national park visit, and a map of the United States on the endpapers.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about national parks. Why do you think the government reserves special areas for people to enjoy natural wonders? 

  • Have you visited any national parks? Which are your favorites? Which would you like to see?

  • How much time do you spend outdoors? Do you think you might want to try getting out there more?

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