March 11, 2012

Iditarod: The Last Great Race on Earth

(image from 

March is always a fun month.  Every year I immediately think St. Patrick's day.  There are so many fun things to do that go along with that holiday!  For some reason, I wasn't feeling the St. Pat's spirit this year.  When my daughter picked out a new read-aloud, The Call of the Wild (by Classic Starts) we stumbled, quite by accident, upon a fun March unit study!  We learned all about the Iditarod.
Have you ever heard of the Iditarod?  This is the "Last Great Race on Earth", where dog mushers from all over the world, meet in Alaska and race their teams from Anchorage to Nome.  The race commemorates the Great Serum Run of 1925.   In early 1925, a doctor in Nome discovered that a few small children had contracted a deadly virus, Dyptheria, and that without the proper medicine, this disease would spread, potentially killing the majority of the village families.  The village desperately needed enough serum to treat the whole town - but it was located hundreds of miles away in Anchorage.  It was so cold, the wind too strong and the blowing snow too blinding that getting a plane into Nome with the needed serum from Anchorage was impossible.  In an amazing feat several sled-dog teams relayed the needed medicine to Nome in the treacherous conditions.  They traveled over a 1000 miles using old mail routes, many of the dogs succumbing to the weather - sacrificing themselves in the race against time to save the village of Nome.  A heroic story!

Maybe you've heard of the famous dog, Balto?  He was the dog who led the last relay team as they made the final serum run into Nome...but did you know that there was a dog named Togo who should not be forgotten?

Togo led his team over 350 miles (3xs as far as any of the other mushers on the relay) on his part of the serum run.  He gave so much of himself that he was never able to race again.  Balto, the dog who became famous, ran 53 miles.  Of course, all the dogs who ran the serum were heroes but it is important to remember that the hero is not necessarily the team who crossed the finish line is the teams who made that final lap even possible. 
Did  you know there is a statue of Balto in Central Park in New York?  His statue, a big favorite in the Park, is located west of East Drive and 67th Street and north of the Zoo.   The plaque reads "Endurance · Fidelity · Intelligence."  And these dogs are incredible.  They are so smart and loyal.   Mushers rely heavily on their dogs to tell them which way to go.  You can read several stories about dogs who kept their team from falling through the ice or were able to keep keep their teams on the trail in white-out conditions.  Mushers build a strong relationship of mutual trust and affection with their sled dogs.

Most sled dogs are Malamute's, Samoyed's or Huskies.  Beautiful dogs!  Their fur is nice and thick to keep them warm, their paws are HUGE (built-in snowshoes) and these dogs are so strong and have a ton of energy.  They LOVE pulling the sleds.
To commemorate the great serum race, the Iditarod is run annually and is, of course, a HUGE event in Alaska.  As we started looking into more information about sled dogs we discovered, conveniently, that the Iditarod just started on March 3rd!  If you visit the website at you can find the history of the race, videos, pictures and so much more!
Register as a free user at and you will have access to this years musher profiles where you can pick your favorite musher and they will send you daily updates as he/she races the Iditarod!   You can follow along with your AK map or on Google Earth!   Don't miss out on this great teacher resources page where you can find downloads and other ideas for teaching children about the Iditarod.  There is also a fun student resources page where you can race your own dogsled, print out coloring sheets and print out your own "Flat Husky."
Interested in learning more about sled dogs, Iditarod, The Great Serum Run, or Alaksa?  Check out the books, DVDs and websites below!  We found all of these great books and videos at our local library!

Learn more about the Great Serum Race of 1925:
The Great Serum Race by Debbie S. Miller
Togo by Robert J. Blake
The Bravest Dog Ever! The True Story of Balto by Natalie Standiford
Balto the movie
The Incredible Life of Balto by Meghan McCarthy

Learn more about sled dogs:
Classic Starts: Jack London's The Call of the Wild (a junior version)
Sled Dogs: Speeding Through the Snow by Alice B. McGinty
Sled Dogs: Powerful Miracle by Stephen Person
Siberian Huskies by Bob Temple

Learn more about the Iditarod and Mushing:
Storm Run: The Story of the First Woman to Win the Iditarod Race by Libby Riddles
Big Enough Anna by Pam Flowers
Kiana's Iditarod by Shelley Gill
Dog Sledder! Racing Across the Snow in Alaska by Robyn Brode
Snow Buddies the movie

Learn more Alaska and their people:
Children of the Midnight Sun by Tricia Brown

Make Alaska-themed snacks!
Moose Racks, Bear Tracks, and other Alaska Kid Snacks

We are having so much fun on this topic.  The more we get into it, the more things we want to learn.  Consider learning about other Alaskan wildlife:  moose, seals, bears, beavers and wolves.  Research aurora borealis "the Northern Lights."  You could also watch Disney's Brother Bear.  There is so much to do, but whatever you decide, have FUN!!

Stephanie has been married to her wonderful husband James for 9 years.  They are parents to 2 special blessings through the miracle of adoption.  Kayley, age 5 and Maggie, age 2.  This is her second year "officially" homeschooling although her Dad always taught her that "every day is a day at school."   You can visit her family at Swinging On Small Hinges.

5 comments - Add a comment below -:

Dana ♥ said...

How fun! Thanks for all the resources! We will have to check these out!

Jenetta said...

I've always been fascinated by the Iditarod. A couple of other good books about Alaska and the Iditarod are Winterdance by Gary Paulsen and The Alaska Mother Goose: North Country Nursery Rhymes. Winterdance unfortunately has a lot of swearing in it but the story is a gripping first person account by the same guy who wrote Hatchet and Brian's Winter. It's really worth reading past the swears to get the good story.

Snickerdoodle Smith said...

Love the idea of dog sledding! Thank you for sharing links and ideas for how to use them!

Carrie said...

Very cool! I am excited to check it out. My son will love to take some time to study the Iditarod. I don't think I ever knew the whole story behind it. Thanks for sharing all this information with us. :)

Jenny said...

Growing up in Alaska(I was born and raised and the hubby moved up when he was 6yo), this was HUGE, as you said. Great to hear that those down here in the "lower 48" are interested in a little Alaska history. Thanks for the informative post:)