Two books for you to read! The first is Iditarod Dream: Dusty and His Sled Dogs Compete in Alaska’s Jr. Iditarod. This is a photo-essay of Dusty Whittemore’s 1995 Jr. Iditarod race, his second. Written by Ted Wood, an introduction provides background information for this race for 14 to 17 year olds. Described as a book of 8-12 year olds, its Lexile level is 890 and has a Guided Reading of level N. The book provides experience reading nonfiction while readers find out about training for races, caring for dogs, and the challenges that happen during a race. Certainly, the themes of perseverance, preparation, and goalsetting are present. For many readers, the book introduces a different lifestyle and schoolstyle, expanding their knowledge of other places, other students in other schools. It is illustrated with photographs of Dusty before, during, and after the race. A quick search on the internet will locate lessons and activities for this book.
Some vocabulary students encounter in Iditarod Dream include tight corner, ribbed, spectators, bale of straw, condition, plateau. Students also have opportunities to understand figurative language–“…the dogs are gobbling up the miles”, “Dusty wolfs down a sandwich”, and “stops dead”.
Racing lingo is explained in the story, both its meaning and its purpose.
The second book in this review is Woodsong by Gary Paulsen. A memoir, Paulsen writes about his experiences learning to run sled dogs and the lessons he learns during this time in the first eight chapters of the book. The second part of the book is written in a journal style, describing Paulsen’s first Iditarod race in 1983. Woodsong is appropriate for 6th graders and older. Its Lexile is 1090 and has a Guided Reading level of T. Many students are familiar with Hatchet and Brian’s Return, just two of Paulsen’s fictional, coming of age, survival stories.
As a chapter book, it differs from most chapter books students have read in that the eight chapters each have their own theme or message that Paulsen is sharing. The chapters don’t follow the typical, chronological order that students are used to reading, and this is an important feature to point out and to be understood by the students. The title, the dedication, the race map, and the artwork are all thought-provoking and discussion worthy. Even the “little thorny lines” used to separate sections within chapters inspire discussion. What do you think those lines are for? Why did lines like these get used rather than some other drawn lines? (Often, students think these lines look like a dogteam on a gangline, racing.)
Woodsong has wonderful words and phrases to expand vocabulary. Metaphors and similes abound in the book, and Paulsen’s experiences enthrall students. Available in audio, also, Paulsen comes right into the classroom if you use a version narrated by him.
Here’s an idea to introduce the book. Before the students hold the book in their hands, before they see it, read aloud the first chapter to them. They’ll be hooked.
Another thought regarding using this novel is to work with the journal section first, which moves in chronological order through the Iditarod. This introduces students to the race route and checkpoint names, familiarizing them with this information before the Iditarod begins. They can trace Paulsen’s route on a race map printout, too, as they read the days of his race.