The Great Whale of Kansas by Richard W. Jennings
In preparation for First Daughter's Kansas study next year, I came across this book at the library. Set in an imaginary town geographically centered in the United States (appropriately named Melville), it's the tale of a lonely 11 year old boy who uncovers something extraordinary in his backyard. It's full of facts about geology and the history of Kansas as well as all the side-show worthy claims of Kansas (deepest hand-dug well, largest ball of twine, Big Brutus, just to name a few*).
It's not a perfect book. There were no whales in the oceans of Kansas and if someone did discover one in his or her backyard, it should certainly be studied by science. The whole ceremony at the end of the book seemed a little much to me. Also, the boy's crush on his science teacher seemed unnecessary. My son is eleven and while I suppose he might be unusual, I see no reason to introduce an element like that into the story. It doesn't introduce anything explicitly inappropriate, though, and I feel comfortable reading this with all my kids (who will be 11, 8, 7, and 5 when school starts).
All that said, this book is such a good fit for us next year, I plan to read it out loud to the whole family. It's Kansas, geology, natural history, American history, paleontology, and just plain fun. I only hope the kids don't start digging an enormous hole in our backyard after we read it.
* The Kansas Explorer's Club is a great way to explore the weird and sometimes wonderful world of rural Kansas.
The Amazon link is an affiliate link. I checked this book out of the library.