Meet Aaron Johnson, creator of the middle-grade book series, National Park Mystery Series. The books follow 13-year-old Jack Evans and his friends on a scavenger hunt filled with clues, maps, and mysteries through the National Parks, starting with Rocky Mountain National Park.
Since we love the National Parks and know many of you do, too, we asked him to share the inspiration behind his National Parks mystery series. Of course, we also had to ask him about his favorite board games, too!
How did the idea for your book start?
Our family was visiting Saguaro National Park in the spring of 2019. While we were in the visitor center looking at books, the idea just came. I had been writing pieces and parts of other stories for years, and they kind of all combined to form the idea for the series. As a kid, I would go exploring the woods, gorges, and pastures in my hometown. While I hiked, I was always looking for things like artifacts, arrowheads, old log cabin foundations, caves, and other hidden places. These books are me doing the same thing as an adult.
Where did your love for the national parks start?
In the summer of 2004, I drove 1,200 miles from Ohio to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), where I backpacked for a week alone. It was a pivotal time in my life. After a week in RMNP, I decided to sell my house, packed my car with all my earthly belongings and my dog, and move to Colorado. I had a lot of time for solitude, which gave me confidence in my decisions. Since then, I've added many months of exploring RMNP: guiding youth backpacking trips, searching for unmapped waterfalls, fly fishing its mountain streams, and hiking with my family.
What is the overall plan for the books? How many will we see?
This first series is ten books set in ten parks: Rocky Mountain, Great Sand Dunes, Grand Canyon, Zion, Yosemite, Olympic, Rainier, Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton. My plan is to do multiple sets and to write a book set in every one of the sixty-two parks.
Anything else you'd like us to know?
The books are illustrated. This first one has over thirty of my drawings to help tell the story.
What's a game you remember playing as a kid?
My favorite was MouseTrap. That game is just genius. I loved that it was both a game and a set of crazy contraptions.
What's a go-to board game for you?
Trekking the National Parks, of course. I like that we learn while having fun. There's also some sophisticated strategy to the scoring, which is fun. I've noticed that my kids and I have developed very different methods to win. It should be noted that my family's go-to board game is Sorry. Part of the reason for that may be because I lose 99% of the time.
What's a recent board game you tried and loved?
Ticket to Ride. I think that I just like games that incorporate maps. If you read my books, you'll find that I'm kinda obsessed with maps.
What is it about board games that you love?
They bring people together with a purpose. Sitting around and talking is great, but I love to be doing something. And it's even better when kids and parents and friends can all play together.
Learn more about the process of creating board games and more with our Behind the Scenes series, like this interview with Lottie Hazel, co-creator of the board game Dog Park.