Sled Dogs and Alaska – Winter Book Topics on Big U

Posted by Big Universe on Feb 14, 2012 6:06:19 AM


After a balmy winter in South Carolina, we’ve had a cold snap. It’s going to get to a frigid 25 degrees tonight, so there has been a run on milk, bread and Pop Tarts at the grocery stores – and I’m only partly kidding.

Everywhere I look, people in an assortment of scarves and Scandinavian knitted caps are scurrying from parking lot to buildings. Long lines are forming at Starbucks and the local Liquid Highway coffee drive-through. I’ve lived here for 23 years – longer than any other place on earth – and I think it’s cold too, but it’s certainly not Pennsylvania Blizzard of 1977 cold, or Wisconsin Ice and Snow Festival cold. And, it’s certainly not dog sled cold.

I cannot imagine riding or running behind a dog sled for hours and hours for 8-15 days at a time. It takes a special kind of adventurer to do that! In fact, Alaska is probably teeming with those sorts as the Iditarod dog sled race is only a little over two weeks away. This year the ceremonial start in Anchorage is slated for March 3. The grueling 1150-mile course then tracks along the Bering Sea coast up to Nome. No wonder it’s called the “Last Great Race on Earth” – the stuff of legends and fodder for the imagination.

In Anchorage, mushers, support teams and their dogs currently are preparing to tackle the elements along the National Historic Trail, which was originally a mail and supplies route between the Alaskan gold fields and the coastal towns. The Iditarod Trail became legendary after a diphtheria epidemic struck Nome in 1925. A relay of heroic dogs and brave dog mushers fought the clock and blizzard conditions to carry life-saving serum to the stricken town. Lives were saved, and legends were born.

Now a modern version of the trek is a yearly high-stakes competition, serving to honor mushers of yore, symbolize Alaskan heritage and supplement the economy. The course direction changes annually and rules and regulations have morphed over time to make the race safer for hound and human. The sporting event is run primarily through the help of volunteers, so everyone gets involved, even school children. (There’s a Jr. Iditarod on Feb. 26th, which may be of particular interest to kids.) The race is such a big part of the culture that many teachers integrate the event topic into classroom lessons. This happens in Alaska and many other states, as well as overseas.

(Read how one teacher on a German military base used the Iditarod to inspire kindergarten students’ participation in the classroom.)

Big Universe Learning features a Bellwether online book titled “Siberian Huskies,” a non-fiction text about the striking dog breed known for its ability to work and live in the cold. This book features vivid pictures and text aimed at readers aged 3-8. When students have finished reading the book, they can take an online quiz to measure comprehension. (F&P GR: L ATOS: 2.5 AR Points: 0.5 AR Quiz: 135468. ISBN: 9781600145193) also offers “The Littlest Sled Dog,” a picture book leveled for Grades 3-4 (interest age 6-12) by Orca Book Publishers. Written by Michael Kusugak and illustrated by Vladyana Krykorka, this fictional story tells the tale of Igvillu, a little dog from Canada with big dreams that change over time. (F&P GR: P Lexile: 660 ATOS: 3.5)

You also may like to read “My Alaskan Vacation,” a book written by one of our Big Universe members and illustrated with photographs uploaded to the website’s authoring tool. Cassidy, a student, wrote “Fun in Alaska,” a seven-pager about her vacation experience to Alaska.

***NOTE: To read more about the Iditarod, go to the official Iditarod race website. (There’s a countdown clock on the home page and many teacher resource links.) To see a reading list for dog lovers, click on Big Universe’s blog “Summer Reading Lists: Cats, Dogs and Horses.”

(Flickr photo credit: Frank Kovalcheck)

Topics: Classroom Ideas, Integration Ideas, Reading Lists, Writing

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