Text and illustrations copyright © 1997 by Robert J. Blake
“It is 1,151 miles of wind, snow and rugged trail . . . from Anchorage to Nome.” Akiak has competed in the famous Alaskan Iditarod before, but she has never won. She has been a fierce contender, placing in the top 5 on three different occasions. Due to her age --she is 10 years old-- this is the last chance for Akiak. It is now or never!
Akiak always finds the safest and fastest way on the course and never gets lost: she is a good lead dog. However, on the fourth day, not even half way into the race, Akiak injures her paw. The Musher --the sled driver-- must drop her off at the next checkpoint. Akiak has other plans; she will not allow herself to be taken away from the race. She outmaneuvers the handlers who try to place her into a helicopter and races on the trail to find her team which now has a seven hour lead on her.
Initially, even a blizzard does not deter her. Although the wind has removed her team’s scent and the snow has covered the trail, Akiak still knows the way. Once the blizzard becomes a whiteout, she is finally thwarted, but only temporarily. She burrows herself in the snow to wait for the storm to pass. In the morning, Akiak is on the move again.
The checkpoints along the way are informed that Akiak is loose. The trail volunteers attempt, unsuccessfully, to capture her. Eventually, many people are so impressed by her tenacity, that they begin rooting for Akiak to catch up to her team. Food is even left out for her to eat.
Day by day, Akiak shortens the distance between herself and her team. On day 10, the last day of the race, she actually catches them. She rushes to the front to be placed back in the lead spot on the harness. However, the Iditarod rules do not permit a dropped off dog to be put back on the harness or to run next to the team. The Musher tells her so, but Akiak begins circling the other dogs, barking and pushing them, then runs down a hill. Akiak is trying to alert her team that that they are making a wrong turn. Once Akiak has them back on the right path, she hops into the sled with the Musher as the rules permit and they charge toward the finish line in first place. The crowd goes wild cheering for Akiak. “As sure as if she had been in the lead position, Akiak won the Iditarod Race.”
Blake’s illustrations beautifully capture the frigid, snowy conditions and the remoteness of the course. The course map, included in the end papers, was a great bonus. As we read, the kids enjoy flipping back to it in order to track Akiak’s journey. Prior to reading Akiak, I knew almost nothing about the Iditarod. However, Akiak is such a compelling heroine and the book is so thrilling that the boys and I were eager to learn more. We followed the 2011 Iditarod back in March and will do so again in 2012.