About the Holiday
On this day we honor the sled dogs who have bravely risked their lives to help human beings survive and flourish in some of the harshest landscapes from our earliest history. One of these memorable times occurred in 1925 when a diphtheria epidemic swept through Nome, Alaska. The only anti-toxin that could help was in Anchorage—more than 900 miles away! The weather was horrific and the only way for the serum to reach the ailing population in time was by dog sled. Through incredible bravery, strength, and perseverance, a relay of dog-sled teams completed the run and delivered the serum.
Today’s Iditarod honors this heroic effort. While this picture book review revolves around the Iditarod, if you would like to read about the serum run and a brave sled dog that made the success of the project possible, I highly recommend another picture book by Robert Blake: Togo.
Akiak: A Tale from the Iditarod
Written and Illustrated by Robert J. Blake
The annual Iditarod is the setting for this dramatic outdoor adventure that pits mushers and their sled dogs against the harshest climate and each other. Akiak is a veteran of this grueling race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. She has led a team of dogs to a fifth, third, and second place, but that winning spot has been so elusive. This year Akiak is 10 years old and it will be her last chance to bring home a first-place finish for the 16-dog team and Mick, her musher.
Akiak possesses the drive and heart to lead the sled up and over dangerously steep hills, through icy water and deep snow, and through howling storms. On Day 3 Akiak, Mick, and the other dogs pass Willy Ketcham, their main rival, and the race is looking good. But on the fourth day of the race, ice jams Akiak’s paw and she can’t continue. Mick leaves her at a checkpoint to be flown home while another of the dog team takes her place.
But Akiak won’t give up easily. Taking advantage of difficult weather, she is able to escape from the handlers putting her on the plane and speeds away, following her knowledge of the trail and the scent of the team to find Mick.
Akiak waits out a blizzard, outsmarts trail volunteers who try to catch her, and endures hunger and thirst to narrow the distance between her and Mick. With the help along the trail, Akiak comes closer to her old team. Finally on day 10, just when the team and Mick need her most, Akiak catches up with them! The Iditarod rules say Akiak can’t be put back on the team, but that doesn’t mean she still can’t help.
Akiak knows something Mick doesn’t. While the team is floundering among crisscrossing trail marks, Akiak nudges them onto the right track. Akiak jumps in the sled with Mick, and they glide into Nome ahead of Ketcham – triumphant!
Author-illustrator Robert Blake has created a fast-paced adventure full of as many twists and turns as the Iditarod trail itself. Children of all ages will cheer Akiak along on his journey. Blake’s oil painting illustrations bring to life the whipping snow, howling winds, and deep drifts of this forbidding landscape. The movement and determination of Akiak and the other sled dogs are rendered beautifully as they strive to win. Alaska’s vast beauty becomes a character itself in the icy blue and white tones of Blake’s work.
Ages 4 – 8
Puffin Books, New York, 2004 | ISBN 978-0142401859
Discover more about Robert Blake and his many books, plus sketchbooks and a video on his website!
Sled Dog Day Activity
Race the Iditarod Trail! Board Game
Play Race the Iditarod Trail—a game as wild as the run itself! The game board, playing cards, and instructions can all be found here (save images to print a full page):
Even Years Route
- Instructions Page
- Iditarod Trail map, Page 1 – Anchorage to McGrath
- Iditarod Trail map, Page 2 – Takotna to Galena
- Iditarod Trail map, Page 3 – Nulato to Nome
- Playing Cards – Page 1
- Playing Cards – Page 2
- Playing Cards – Page 3
Odd Years Route