BOOKWORM: Children’s book pulls adults into reading it too

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

Did you ever try to run fast in deep snow?

It’s almost impossible, isn’t it? Your boots are clunky, it hurts to breathe and, if the snow is too high, you simply can’t get through the drifts. No, the only way to run in deep snow is if it’s packed down. Even then, you wouldn’t want to do it for long.

Now imagine racing miles through deep snow and forest, snow and thin ice. Read about that and some amazing athletes in “Born to Pull: The Glory of Sled Dogs” by Bob Cary, illustrated by Gail de Marcken.

Until about 50 years ago – before snowmobiles became popular – the best, sometimes only way for many Northern people to travel during the winter was on a sled pulled by dogs. Because of the reliance on these powerful athletes with an uncanny “sixth sense,” sled dogs have been carefully bred over the centuries to create different dogs, each with its own “specialty.”

Malamutes, Cary writes, are “freight dogs.” They can pull heavy loads over miles of snow in brutally cold conditions. Malamutes, incidentally, have rough pads on their feet and can handle sub-zero temperatures extremely well.

Siberian huskies have some racing ability and can pull heavier loads than Malamutes, but for shorter periods of time. Eskimo dogs came from Greenland and are known for their endurance. Alaskan huskies are not really a breed at all, but can be a mixture of many different kinds of dogs, bred with certain characteristics in mind.

Most mushers (people who own sled dogs) keep their dogs outside, each individually tethered to its own small wooden house. Sled dogs have heavy fur coats and actually like the bitter cold. Some dogs avoid their doghouses in order to sleep in the snow with their tails over their noses.

Sled dogs are quite happy to lounge all day, but when it’s time to harness up, their handlers must hold on tight. The dogs get very excited and will hop to their position. Any number of dogs can be used to pull a sled, but mushers generally use at least five animals. A pair of dogs, by the way, can pull more than 1,000 pounds and, despite what you’ve seen on cartoons, mushers never shout “Mush!”

Got a kid who’s passionate about sports, dogs, and snow – or all three? If you do, “Born to Pull” is a book he’ll want to get his mittens on.

Cary offers kids a basic idea of what it takes to be a musher: the breeds of dogs that pull, equipment needed, what it’s like to race and the cost to keep an operation going. He also includes stories from veteran mushers who remember their favorite dogs. Add in gorgeously lifelike watercolors by de Marcken, and your dog lover will howl with happiness.

Meant for kids ages 10 and older, I wouldn’t hesitate to hand this book to an adult who counts the days until winter. “Born to Pull” is a book they’ll pull off the shelves again and again.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,500 books.

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