The Incredible Life of Balto (review)
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Reviewed by
McCarthy, Meghan. The Incredible Life of Balto; written and illus. by Meghan McCarthy. Knopf, 2011. [40p]. Library ed. ISBN 978-0-375-94460-4 $19.99 Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-375-84460-7 $16.99 Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 3-5.

[Erratum]

Balto is a famous name in dogdom: the lead dog of the sled team that brought the diphtheria remedy to Nome, Alaska in 1925 (the trip that's commemorated by the Iditarod race), he's been honored in many books for young people. McCarthy, an established name in picture-book-style nonfiction, pulls back for a wider focus here. Though she begins with an account of Balto's epic original journey, the book goes on to chronicle how swiftly Balto's star rose and then fell, with the sled team that was celebrated in movies sold first to a vaudeville promoter and then to a sideshow, all within a couple of years. In an effort spearheaded by a local businessman, the people of the city of Cleveland donated enough to purchase the team, which was then retired to a cushy and admired existence at Cleveland's Brookside Zoo. McDonald's text is spare and her chronicle swift, resulting in an accessible overview that may not be as stirring as some accounts of Balto's journey but that gives a more sophisticated but still easily readable overview of his moment in history. McDonald's art shows her ease with this early period milieu, whether it's flapper-dressed ladies celebrating Balto or cap-bedecked kids on a day out at the zoo, and her by-now-familiar bulging-eyed figures have a touch of pathos, emphasized by the subdued palette, along with their slightly comedic cartoonishness. Add this to a suite of heroic dog tales or use it to flesh out the more one-note stories of Balto's canine fame. Endpapers feature a map of the famous journey to Nome; an author's note will be included in the bound book. [End Page 530]

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