When my daughter was young we discovered the wonderful story of Balto, the Alaskan sled dog that delivered medicine to the town of Nome in 1925, just in time to stop an outbreak of diphtheria. He was a hero because he persevered through weather that made trains useless. He was a hero because he was tough and strong. And he was a hero because he had help.
By himself, Balto could not have delivered the medicine to Nome any more than his sled driver could have made it in time by himself. It took a team. We remember that team because they were the ones that crossed the finish line. What about the other teams on the other legs of that journey from Nenana to Nome? I am embarrassed to say we didn’t question it at the time. Balto would not be a hero without those teams any more than an Olympic gold medalist cannot become a hero without the parents, coaches and other mentors that helped every step of the way.
I met one of those heroes through my weekly library explorations. Togo by Robert J. Blake (Philomel Books, 2002) is the story of a Siberian husky named Togo whose owner originally tried to give him away, figuring he’d make a better pet than sled dog. But Togo had other ideas and soon was the leader of the pack. This book moved me in the same way the story of Balto did when I read it 20 years ago. Blake captures the tension Leonhard Seppala – Togo’s owner – must’ve felt during the run. We’re pulled into the action when Seppala must warm his dogs’ frozen-shut eyes with his own breath; we struggle with how impossible the mission seems. Blake’s use of oil paint for the illustrations adds a depth that mirrors the beauty of the harsh arctic landscape as well as the horror of being lost in a blizzard.
Togo is one of those books I wished I’d found years ago. It is a thrilling tale of determination in the face of insurmountable odds, and a great reminder that it takes a team to make a hero. It’s a perfect read to share with your favorite little one. I’m going to need a copy of my own.