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Terri Farley
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Saturday, June 04, 2011

Bravest Dog Ever?

Dear Readers,
I'm sharing this cool book review NOT just because of Balto's amazing story, not because you'll be touched by the neglect, abuse and eventual rescue that followed his heroism, but as a sort of an example.
If you're a student, you've probably been asked to write book reviews. If you find yourself saying "I liked reading the book, but I don't want to write about it!" save this review as example of how the "why" of your feelings about a book can make the review GREAT.
If you're not a student, I promise you'll appreciate the contemporary connections the reviewer makes.

Richie's Picks: THE INCREDIBLE LIFE OF BALTO by Meghan McCarthy, Knopf,
August 2011, 40p., ISBN: 978-0-375-84460-7

THE INCREDIBLE LIFE OF BALTO is the picture book true story of a sled dog
from Alaska who became amazingly famous; was soon thereafter forgotten and
neglected; and was later rediscovered and saved from further neglect and
mistreatment thanks to a public fundraising campaign.

Balto was the lead dog on a dogsled team that was instrumental in saving
lives in 1925, when a shipment of medicine was desperately needed in
blizzard-bound Nome, Alaska to combat a deadly epidemic of diphtheria. With no

alternative method of delivery available in those days, Balto led the team of
dogs and their owner for many miles through deep, blinding snow to
successfully deliver the medicine.

This made Balto famous. He modeled for a statue that still stands in New
York City's Central Park, and he was the four-legged star of a silent
movie. But then the dogs were sold, first to an owner who presented them in a
vaudeville show and, then, to another owner who ran a sideshow and didn't
treat them well. Things again turned around for Balto and his teammates when
a Cleveland businessman successfully spearheaded a public campaign to buy
the dogs and move them to where they would be provided better care.

The danger and daring nature of Balto's historic feat make this an
exciting story. Meghan McCarthy has a very recognizable and kid-friendly
illustration style that makes this story really fun. Together, these
qualities, by
themselves, make this a must-have book.

But this is just the beginning of why I choose to write about THE

It was Balto's feat and fame that inspired the present-day Iditarod
--promoted as "The Last Great Race on Earth" -- in which dogsled teams cover
1,150 miles of Alaskan trails over a couple of weeks. Part of the Iditarod
race covers the same trails that Balto followed. So this book provides a
connection to my beloved buddy Gary Paulsen, the award-winning author who has
run the Iditarod several times.

I've heard plenty of times over the course of my life that we live in a
throw-away society. Some try to make it sound as though things were better
in the "old days." But it takes just a little bit of studying history to
realize that this is not true. Just as we see Balto being "thrown away" once
his 15 minutes of fame has passed, we as a society seem to have always
thrown away people (and principles) just as easily as we throw away an
outgrown frock or toy.

Over the past 78 years, since Franklin Delano Roosevelt became President
the same year that Balto died, and -- at the insistence of Labor Secretary
Frances Perkins -- began setting up a societal safety net for the poor and
elderly and unemployed, there has been an ever-present tension between two
opposing forces in our country. On one side are those who support the use
of public monies for helping others who are old or poor or under-educated
and those who, to quote my hero Mario Cuomo, "believe that the wagon train
will not make it to the frontier unless some of the old, some of the young,
some of the weak are left behind by the side of the trail."

And so I am also a big fan of THE INCREDIBLE LIFE OF BALTO because I
believe this true story about caring for others will help develop empathy in
impressionable young people who don't always get the best modeling in this

Finally, I love this book because I have always been fascinated by history
and by change. Ever since my eighth grade American history teacher shared
her first-hand experience about daily life in America during World War II
-- the shortages and the rationing coupons and the recycling and the
blackouts -- I have never gotten enough of looking at the similarities and
differences between Then and Now. And so, I figure that there are plenty of
out there that will get a kick out of how things were different
eighty-five years ago. Just like I do.

Read more on BALTO & follow some good links: Wiki Balto
Read more reviews by Richie Partington: Richie's Picks

P.S. Do you know any TRUE STORIES of other brave dogs?

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