INSIDE Chico State
0 November 29, 2001
Volume 32 Number 7
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico




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Prolific Children’s Book Author Loves His Work

Mike Graf

Mike Graf has authored 24 books in the last year alone.

photo: Lisa Kirk

“I can’t believe I get to do this for my job!” exclaimed children’s book author Mike Graf, Child Development and Education. On book contracts, Graf has backpacked the world’s national parks, interviewed storm-chasers and special-effects wizards, met the last surviving Angel Island immigrant, rafted through spectacular caves, researched wolf restoration, rock-climbed in Yosemite, explored ghost towns, and much more.

He has put his many experiences into 33 children’s books (24 this year) and has 12 current contracts and more publishers waiting in line. “I must be doing something right,” he said.

He never expected to get his first book, The Weather Report, published. As a fourth-grade teacher and science mentor in San Luis Obispo in 1989, he wrote a weather unit for teachers after setting up weather stations throughout the county. The teachers who used his lesson plans, worksheets, and experiments encouraged him to submit the unit for publication, and the first publisher gave him a contract. It’s still his best-selling book and has been translated into Japanese.

The Weather Channel picked up Graf’s book for their weather education department and invited him to become a consultant. Once or twice a year he meets in Atlanta with educators from around the United States to do lesson plans, activities, and videos for weather education.

His books are mainly supplemental curriculum books for schools. He has a els that interweave fact and fiction for readers in grades 4–6. “A lot of the characters are kids I’ve known,” said Graf, “and the action is based on realistic situations I’ve been involved in. I just elaborate creatively.” The books have a lot of dialog, action, and dramatic tension. Cave Story and Tornado! feature Tim, based on one of Graf’s former fourth-grade students, who gets caught in a tornado and lost in a cave. Wolves in the Wilderness, completed in October, takes place in Glacier National Park in Montana, but the setting is fictionalized for broader appeal worldwide. It features a father and daughter on a backpacking trip who recognize signs that wolves are naturally re-colonizing the park. These gripping stories are interspersed with sidebars, glossaries, diagrams, and appendices that give scientific information in a kid-friendly format. His other adventure book topics include coal mines, dinosaurs, bears, and blackwater rafting.

Graf edits his books dozens of times to make sure they are “not too linear, too mired down in scientific detail.” He likes to “let the information fall into place rather than carry the story.” He does readings to school classes or friends’ kids before sending off a manuscript. Sometimes he has the kids or the teacher read the story out loud while he makes editorial notes and changes. He gives great credit to his local editor, Kathleen McFarren: “We do a lot of editing together, and she cleans up what I do.”

Two of 33 Mike Graf Books

Two of the 33 books Mike Graf has written for children.

He also values the “incredible” people he interviews. Dale Ching, the 75-year-old docent at San Francisco Bay’s Angel Island, urged him to give kids a connection to the past. Warren Harding of Redding, one of the first to climb Yosemite’s El Capitan in the ’50s, advised Graf on his rock-climbing book for kids.

His nonfiction books include The Environment Through the Ages; The Greatest Structures Ever Built; Lightning and Thunderstorms; The World’s Best Places: New Ways to Explore Diverse Cultures & Environments, profiling 32 of the world’s national parks; Weather Wise, a teacher’s guide; and National Parks Projects, sold at many U.S. national park bookstores. He has completed four books on continents of the world, six on individual national parks, and two on countries—Switzerland and Somalia. Contacts for the Somalia book included CSU, Chico’s resident Somalia expert, history professor Charles Geshekter.

“I have a variety of opportunities in my life, and one is working at Chico State,” Graf said. “Working here makes me more resourceful and a better writer.” Graf teaches classes in the Departments of Child Development and Education and supervises student teachers.

Wait, did we mention the books on insects, daydreaming, camping? Or Fairy Tales in the Dark? The job as a TV weatherman? The annual caving trip with inner-city Oakland kids? Author talks at schools? National park fairs? For all the details, check out Graf’s Web site at:

Francine Gair


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