Taken from the Central Park Website: “In January 1925, Alaskan doctors feared a deadly diphtheria epidemic would spread among the children of Nome. Medicine to stop the outbreak existed, but doctors needed to travel nearly a thousand miles to Anchorage to retrieve it. With no trains running that far north and the only available airplane sidelined by a frozen engine, the best chance of transporting the medicine across the icy tundra was by sled dog.
More than 20 sled teams coordinated to make the trip through blinding snow and sub-zero temperatures. On the first of February, the package was handed off to the final team. Lead by Balto, the team covered 53 treacherous miles back to Nome in 20 hours. Newspapers and radio around the world followed the trek, fascinated by the brave team whose efforts eventually helped end the epidemic.”
The text, The Incredible Life of Balto by Meghan McCarthy focuses on how a Siberian husky from Alaska led his team to transport serum to Nome to combat diphtheria epidemic. In the beginning of the book, young readers are introduced to diphtheria, a deadly disease that affects the upper respiratory tract system. This deadly disease was spreading through the town of Nome, Alaska. Dr. Curtis Welch wanted to make the young children again but he was unable to because the serum to cure the children was on the other side of Alaska. On January 25, 1925, Dr. Welch sent a telegram asking for assistance on how he could get the serum to help the young children. Several days later, a response came through telling the doctor that 300,000 units of serum could be found in Anchorage. The only way the serum would be able to be transported was through a dogsled since there was a blizzard in Alaska at the time. Mushers are those who guide the dogs and 20 teams tried to obtain the medication but because it was so cold, many of the dogs died because their lungs burst from the cold. As a result, a man named Gunnar Kaasen was chosen to run of the last legs of the race and he picked a dog named Balto to be the leader. Balto was inexperienced and not as fast as the other dogs. However, Kaasen believed in Balto and thus, Balto led his team through the blizzard to obtain the serum. They were successful and were able to transport the serum to Nome in record time. Thus, Balto became a hero. Children adored him and he because a superstar overnight at the box office, on tv, as well as in the newspapers. In addition, Frederick Roth, a famous sculptor had heard of Balto’s achievements and was inspired to create a statue. The statue can now be found in New York City’s Central Park. Eventually, a grapple over money caused the dogsled team to be sold, and Kaasen traveled back to Alaska without them. The animals became apart of a vaudeville act. It was a kind of entertainment in which a variety of performers such as singers, dancers, and trained animals appeared. As a result, a Cleveland businessman named George Kimble paid to see Balto and the other dogs who were apart of the team that saved the young children. However, Balto’s owner demanded a lot of money, about $2000, which was a lot of money in 1927. Thus, Kimble did not have sufficient money and created a fund to help save Balto. Eventually, Balto and his team were saved and Kimble donated Balto and his teammates to the Brookside Zoo.
This book is part of the narrative non-fiction genre as it is a biography of Balto’s life. Some of the features that I enjoyed while reading this book were the illustrations, captions, as well as some direct quotes. Indeed, I do not remember learning much about Balto as a child and did not get to see the movie. Therefore, when I read the book and did a little research, I was able to understand the story a little better. The author did a good job leading readers to discovering what the book is about in the beginning by stating the question, “Could dogs carry medicine to save the people of Nome?” In addition, I enjoyed seeing how the text and the illustrations went hand in hand and children are able to comprehend the story better by looking at the pictures. For example, the author writes, “Balto led his team through blinding snow that pelted their face. In some places, the snow was so deep that their thin legs hardly moved.” This line matched the picture because readers can see how the dogs are struggling in the snow and Balto’s tongue is sticking out. One can note the animals’ struggle to get across the blizzard. In addition, I also enjoyed reading the inscription about Balto’s statue in Central Park that was captured in the book. It said, “Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of the sled dogs that relayed antitoxin six hundred miles over rough ice, across treacherous waters, through Arctic blizzards from Nenana to the relief of stricken Nome in the Winter of 1925. ”
I admit I did enjoy reading this book and believe young children as young as 7 years old would enjoy listening to it. Children are able to relate to it in a sense since it is a story about a dog and his adventure. I believe children enjoy reading or listening to stories that they can relate to everyday. The author summed up the story with providing enriching details rather than just giving it away. Children are able to make predictions in this story and I think it is a great book to start a conversation since it is a story about a dog who saves young children. At the end of the story, the dog and his teammates are praised for his efforts because he saved many lives. In the story, readers see how Balto didn’t have much confidence in himself and I believe children can also relate since some children do have insecurities.
Some questions that I have for the author regarding this book are:
1. In the beginning of the book, there is a line that says “Could dogs carry medicine to save the people of Nome?” I felt like this line gave away what would happen in the story, why did you choose to write this instead of allowing young readers to discover it on their own?
2. Towards the end of the book, the dogs were sold and they became apart of a vaudeville act. How do you think the dogs felt being treated this way? After all, they went from being heroes in the spotlight to being unrecognized.