Book Review–Akiak A Tale from the Iditarod


Akiak book coverAkiak A Tale from the Iditarod is realistic fiction by author and illustrator Robert J. Blake. Akiak (ACK-ee-ack) is a lead sled dog who hurts a paw during the Iditarod, causing her musher to drop her from the team at one of the race checkpoints. She is cared for by the race veterinarians, but escapes her ride home on a bush plane in order to catch up with her team. This is just the beginning of the tale. The interest level is grades 2-5, its grade level equivalent is 2.9, the Lexile is 590, and the Guided Reading level is L.

Each time I read this book, which can also be found in some elementary  reading textbooks, I discover new details, making this a great book to practice the skill of reading for detail. Here are three details to look for—what is the gender of the dog and of the musher, and do the musher illustrations bear similarities to actual mushers? If so, who? As always when reading, find the evidence which supports the answers to these and more questions.

Themes in this book are perseverance, the outdoors, competition, and animals. Students learn the characteristics of realistic fiction—the setting, plot, and characters are realistic while the story is not a telling of an event that actually happened.

Having been on the race trail and at various checkpoints, I appreciate the accuracy of Blake’s descriptive words and illustrations of the setting and the situation of a sled dog running to find its team. Readers who aren’t familiar with Alaska or the Iditarod will gain accurate information to widen their personal knowledge bases.

At a glance, Blake’s illustrations take readers to Alaska and the Iditarod, but study of details in these illustrations reveal accuracy, emotion, and the connection that mushers have with their teams. For example, the illustration for DAY EIGHT includes Iditarod race patch details on the parka. The DAY TEN illustration reveals the team’s relationship with Akiak, the team dogs looking to her for guidance. The illustrations provide inspiration for art lesson plans regarding color and technique.

The endsheets of this book include the map of the Iditarod Trail, showing both the Southern and Northern routes and naming each checkpoint, most of which are Alaskan villages. As Akiak races with her team, and then runs to catch up with it, the villages are named, making the book a good way to familiarize students with the race route. Then, when the class follows the actual race, they can relate their background knowledge to the race. A pronunciation guide for the checkpoint names can be found here on page 41 of this document.

This link has information about how the race dogs are identified, a question which may be generated while reading this book.

Finally, Blake wrote an author’s note at the end of the story which explains some of the race rules and what happens to dogs that are dropped from their teams during the race. For complete race rules, click here .

An online search of this book will generate many activities and lesson plans for Akiak A Tale from the Iditarod.