This year will be the 50th anniversary of the Iditarod, starting on March 5, 2022. Mushers from all over the world will journey to Alaska to compete in a 975 mile race to Nome. It’s a wonderful event where we celebrate the power of dogs and the mushers who love them.
I’m a big fan of mushing, having had the opportunity to learn how to dogsled back in 2017. Since then, I’ve gotten to go to Alaska and the Yukon Territory to follow a different ultramarathon, the Yukon Quest, which is also about 1,000 miles long and considered by some to be a tougher race. Mushers have welcomed me to their kennels where I’ve gotten to see their wonderful dogs. I’ve been at the front line where the dogs are eager to get racing — sometimes more so than the musher themselves! Plus, I’ve traveled along part of the race into central Alaska and gotten to know the amazing generous people there and see the beauty of Alaska.
While the pandemic has put a stop to my dogsledding adventures, I have put together a list of picture books intended for K–3 readers to stay engaged with the sport. As a mother of a young child, I want to share a little bit of this world with her through these wonderful books.
One word of caution — I was surprised how few dogsledding books for this age group were written or illustrated by people of color, especially how much the practice of dogsledding has its roots in indigenous communities around the world.
Kamik Joins the Pack by Darryl Baker and Qin Leng
Jake can’t wait to see what his dog Kamik can do in a dog sledding team. He learns from his uncle how to become a musher. For people who want to learn the basics of dog sledding, this one is great. It talks about dog care, training, and more. It’s also a great story for folks who want to learn how to do anything — it takes time and effort. It’s one of several books in the Kamik series.
Dogteam by Gary Paulsen and Ruth Wright Paulsen
The first book I ever read about dog sledding was by Gary Paulsen, who passed away last year. I had not been much of a fan of Hatchet, but Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod was magical. Dogteam captures the beauty of dog sledding in a picture book. He really captures the oneness that a musher feels with his dogs while running through a snowy landscape.
Togo by Robert J. Blake
This book covers the famous 1925 serum run where a tag-team of mushers raced against time to bring a lifesaving serum to the sick children of Nome, Alaska. While most people familiar with the story may know about Balto, the lead dog, who brought the team into Nome, this book focuses on Togo, the lead dog of Leonhard Seppala, who covered much of the distance between Nenana and Nome. It’s a great story about a dog who just didn’t act or look like people expected to and later became a hero. There’s also a great movie by the same name starring Willem Dafoe as Seppala in 2019.
Sled Dogs Run by Jonathan London and Jon Van Zyle
This book also goes through the basics of dog sled training, starting when the dogs are puppies until they are old enough to mush. It covers the basic elements of dogsledding like the equipment and, like in Paulsen’s book, shows the important connection between musher and their dogs.
Dogs on the Trail: A Year in the Life by Blair Braverman and Quince Mountain
So this book is a bit different from the rest of the list. It’s an all-ages nonfiction book published in 2021 about Braverman and Mountain’s dogs. Both are mushers who have raced competitively. The book came out of Braverman sharing photos of their dogs on Twitter and finding that people really loved hearing about the “Ugly Dogs.” Filled with lots of pictures, the book follows the training of their dogs throughout the year. It’s a fun pictorial look at the world of sled dogs and their mushers.
Big-Enough Anna: The Little Sled Dog Who Braved the Arctic by Pam Flowers and Bill Farnsworth
This book chronicles Anna, a sled dog who helped Pam Flowers achieve her quest of crossing the North American Arctic with an eight dog dogsled. Flowers is an accomplished explorer who was awarded the Gold Medal by the Society of Women Geographers in 1996 and has written several books for different ages.
Fearless John By Kelly Rauzi
Most people are familiar with the Iditarod, but there are many other dog sledding races including the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon in Minnesota. This book explores the life of John Beargrease, the son of an Anishinabe Chief, who delivered mail and supplies by dog team. It’s a celebration of the man as well as the tradition of dog sledding as an important means of mail and supply delivery.
Storm Run: The Story of the First Woman to Win the Iditarod Sled Dog Race by Libby Riddles and Shannon Cartwright
While this book is a little bit on the older end of the K–3 spectrum (well, 3–7), the book follows the story of Liddy Riddles, the first woman to win the Iditarod. It shows her determination to win the race and how she faced great obstacles, including a big storm! Race Across Alaska: First Woman to Win the Iditarod Tells Her Story is also well worth a read for adults.
I hope that we’ll have more books, nonfiction and fiction, about dog sledding including ones about the Yukon Quest, my personal favorite dogsled race. Also, shorter dog sports like canicross, bikejoring, and others have become very popular so it would be great to see picture books reflecting those sports.
Want more? Check out my list of adult books about dogsledding and my experience meeting champion musher Jeff King and asking him to sign my book.