Gary Paulsen is perhaps best known to young readers for his Brian’s Saga series of books (including the Newberry Award winner, Hatchet). But it was his 1994 book Winterdance that opened up a new world for me, that was to become a passion of mine for many years: sled dog racing.
Aptly subtitled The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod, Winterdance recounts Paulsen’s own attempt, at age 43, to take on Alaska’s daunting sled dog marathon: a 1,100 mile race from Anchorage to Nome in the dead of winter. With a team of 16 dogs and almost no experience, Paulsen pursues a dream that pushes him to the limits of his endurance, both physical and mental. But more than just an account of his harrowing 17 day journey, it is a testament to the bond between man and dog, a celebration of the beauty of nature (both peaceful and fierce), a study in perseverance, and an inspiration to all who have struggled to come to terms with life and one’s place in it. Often hilarious, full of danger, excitement and wonder, Winterdance embodies the spirit of adventure and beautifully relates one man’s love for the creatures who make his life meaningful.
For those of us who embrace winter and revel in the snow and cold of the season, Winterdance is a marvelous reinforcement of living in the Great White North. For those who prefer sun, sand and much warmer environs, you will still thrill to this wonderful, true story – and you just might become a fan of sled dog racing yourself, even if you follow it from afar.