Every dog has his day, but Balto’s life is comparable to an early 20th-century movie star’s.
McCarthy’s coverage begins in Nome, Alaska, in 1925. Dr. Welch presides at the bedside of a diphtheria-stricken child and follows up with a desperate telegram for the serum needed to prevent an epidemic. While Balto’s legendary role in braving a blizzard to deliver the antitoxin in record time is dramatically portrayed, the author’s primary interest lies in recounting the rest of the Siberian husky’s story. Balto went on to star in a film about the relay race that prefigured the Iditarod. He stayed at the Biltmore in Los Angeles, rubbed elbows with famous actors and posed for a sculpture in New York’s Central Park. When the canine’s fortunes changed, he performed in vaudeville until a Cleveland businessman (and schoolchildren) paid for his transfer to a zoo. Employing the style established in her previous historical investigations (ranging from Charles Atlas to bubble gum), the author selects child-friendly details, explains challenging words in context and re-creates period documents and settings. Her signature acrylic caricatures, identifiable by oversized eyes, convey a sense of attentiveness in keeping with the narrative. The predominance of snow and gray light creates a mood of remote desolation; the palette brightens to warm greens at the conclusion.
An intelligent read-aloud for those not quite ready to tackle the existing independent readers. (maps, author’s note) (Picture book/biography. 5-8)