Four sled dogs panting heavily as they carry a sled
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Racing through Danger

People in an Alaskan town were dying. Could a dog named Balto race through a snowstorm to save their lives?

By Blair Rainsford

Learning Objective: Students will identify problems encountered in getting lifesaving medicine to the town of Nome, Alaska, and how they were solved. 

Lexiles: Beginner Level, Easier Level, 500L-600L
Guided Reading Level: P
DRA Level: 34-38
Other Key Skills: text features, vocabulary, identifying a problem, cause and effect, key idea, author’s craft, supporting details, inference, connecting to text, explanatory and opinion writing
Think and Read: Problem and Solution

As you read, look for the different problems that come up in the story and how they are solved.

Bettmann/Getty Images

It was a freezing winter in 1925. The town of Nome, Alaska, was in trouble. A deadly disease was spreading through the town. The disease was called diphtheria (dif-THEER-ee-uh), and Nome’s only doctor didn’t have any medicine for it.

Several children had gotten sick and died. And more people were getting sick each day. The closest medicine was hundreds of miles away in a town called Nenana.

There were only a few ways to reach the remote town of Nome. During the winter, most of these ways couldn’t be used. Thick snow blocked the roads. Strong winds made flying dangerous. And the nearby water was too icy for ships to travel through. There was only one way to get in or out of Nome—on an icy dogsled trail.

It was a freezing winter in 1925. The town of Nome, Alaska, was in trouble. A disease was spreading through the town. And it was a deadly one. The disease was called diphtheria (dif-THEER-ee-uh). 

Nome had one doctor. And he didn’t have any medicine for it. 

Several children had gotten sick and died. More people were getting sick each day. The closest medicine was hundreds of miles away. It was in a town called Nenana. 

Nome was hard to reach. There were only a few ways to get to the remote town. Most of these ways couldn’t be used in the winter. Snow blocked the roads. Strong winds made flying dangerous. There was water nearby. But it was too icy for ships to come through. So there was only one way to get to Nome: an icy dogsled trail. 

It was the winter of 1925. A town called Nome, Alaska, was in trouble. A deadly disease called diphtheria (dif-THEER- ee-uh) was spreading through the town. People were getting sick. Some had died. And the closest medicine was hundreds of miles away. There was only one way to get the medicine to Nome in winter: an icy dogsled trail. 

The trail was long and treacherous. But Nome’s leaders came up with a plan. Twenty dogsled teams would work together. Each team would run part of the way. Then they would pass the medicine to the next team. They had six days to deliver it, or it would get too cold. 


Jim McMahon/Mapman®

A Race to Save Nome

A Race to Save Nome



Dogsled drivers, known as mushers, could carry the medicine from Nenana to Nome. But the trail was long and treacherous. One team couldn’t make the journey alone. So Nome’s town officials came up with a daring plan: Twenty teams would work together to deliver the medicine.

The idea was similar to running a relay race. Each musher and dog team would run part of the route and pass the medicine off to the next team. The trip usually took 25 days. But the medicine would last only six days in the cold weather. The mission: Deliver the medicine in time.

The journey began on January 27, 1925. The first team picked up the medicine and ran until they reached the next team. The teams passed the medicine along, getting it closer and closer to Nome.

Finally, on February 1, the last dogsled team got the medicine. It was the middle of the night. And a heavy blizzard had just hit the area. Nome was still 53 miles away. If the medicine was going to get there in time, the dogs would have to run all night long.

Dogsled drivers are called mushers. Mushers could carry the medicine to Nome. But the dogsled trail was long. And it was treacherous. One dogsled team couldn’t do it alone. So Nome’s town officials came up with a plan. Twenty teams would work together to deliver the medicine.

Each dogsled team would run part of the way. Then they would pass the medicine to the next team. The trip usually took 25 days. But the medicine would last only six days in the cold. The mission: Deliver the medicine in time.

The first team started on January 27. The dogsled team picked up the medicine. They ran until they reached the next team. The teams passed the medicine along. They got it closer and closer to Nome.

On February 1, the last team got the medicine. It was the middle of the night. And a heavy blizzard had begun. Nome was still 53 miles away. The dogs would have to run all night to deliver the medicine in time. 



H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

This is a dogsled team from the 1920s.

Every dogsled team has a musher. The musher is the person on the sled.

The dog in front has the most important job. It leads the other dogs. That’s why it’s called the lead dog.

Smart and Brave

Smart and Brave

Running Through a Blizzard 


National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

Gunnar Kaasen (KAY-sen) was the musher in charge of the final team. He picked his dogs carefully. He chose a dog named Balto to be the lead dog.

In dogsled teams, the lead dog has the most important job: to run in front of the other dogs and show them what to do. Kaasen knew that he could count on Balto to be smart and brave. Balto could handle any obstacles in his way, like slippery ice and thick snow.

The final team set off for Nome with Balto in the lead. The air was so cold that it hurt to breathe. Heavy snow fell as they ran. After a few miles, the dogs stopped. They could no longer see the trail. They were lost!

Gunnar Kaasen (KAY-sen) was the musher for the final team. He picked his dogs carefully. He chose a dog named Balto to be the lead dog.

In dogsled teams, the lead dog has the most important job. It runs in front of the other dogs. And it shows them what to do. Kaasen knew that he could count on Balto. Balto was smart and brave. He could deal with obstacles. He could deal with slippery ice. He could handle thick snow.

The final team set off for Nome. Balto was in the lead. The air was so cold, it hurt to breathe. Heavy snow fell. The dogs ran for a few miles. Then they stopped. They could no longer see the trail. They were lost! 

The first team started on January 27. The teams passed the medicine along, getting it closer and closer to Nome.

On February 1, the last dogsled team got the medicine. A blizzard had just started. Nome was still 53 miles away. The dogs would have to run all night.

Gunnar Kaasen (KAY-sen) was the musher for the last team. A musher is the person in charge of a dogsled team. Kaasen chose a dog named Balto to be the lead dog. The lead dog runs in front and shows the other dogs what to do. Kaasen knew he could count on Balto. 

The final team left for Nome. Heavy snow fell. After a few miles, the dogs stopped. They were lost!

They needed to find the trail soon. If they didn’t, they would freeze to death. But Balto found the scent of the trail. The dogs started running again. Balto had saved his team’s life. 


Bettmann/Getty Images

This is Gunnar Kaasen, the musher for the last dogsled team. He holds Balto.

The Frozen River

The Frozen River



Luckily, Balto knew what to do. He lowered his nose to the ground. As the icy wind blew, he sniffed the snow, trying to pick up the scent of the trail.

Minutes crawled by. If they didn’t find the trail soon, they would freeze to death. Suddenly, Balto started running again, and the other dogs followed. He had found the trail—and saved his team’s life.

Balto led the team for miles. Kaasen had to stop to clear ice and snow from the dogs’ eyes so they wouldn’t freeze shut. Sharp pieces of ice cut the dogs’ paws. Still, the dogs persevered.

About halfway through the trip, Balto stopped running again. Kaasen was confused. What was Balto doing? They were still on the trail with miles to go. Was Balto giving up?

Then Kaasen looked down. Balto’s front paws were in water. The team had been heading onto a frozen river, and Balto had broken through the ice! He had stopped just in time.

Balto had kept the team from falling into the water. He had faced another obstacle and saved his team’s life—again.

But Balto knew what to do. He put his nose to the ground. He sniffed the snow. He tried to find the scent of the trail.

Minutes went by. They needed to find the trail soon. Otherwise, they would freeze to death. Suddenly, Balto started running. The other dogs followed. Balto had found the trail. He had saved his team’s life.

Balto led the team for miles. Kaasen stopped along the way. He cleared snow from the dogs’ eyes. He didn’t want their eyes to freeze shut. Sharp ice cut the dogs’ paws. Still, the dogs persevered.

They made it about halfway through the trip. Then Balto stopped again. Kaasen was confused. What was Balto doing? There were miles to go. Was Balto giving up?

Then Kaasen looked down. Balto’s front paws were in water. The team had run onto a frozen river. And Balto had broken through the ice! He had stopped just in time.

Balto kept the team from falling into the water. He had faced another obstacle. And he saved his team’s life— again. 



Jim McMahon/Mapman ®

The Race to Nome

Each yellow paw print shows where a new dogsled team started. There were 20 teams that carried the medicine. Balto’s team was the last.

Through the Blizzard

Through the Blizzard

He Would Not Quit 


Balto kept the team going through icy, frigid winds. He ran with them through snow piled as high as his pointy ears. He led them up slippery hills covered in ice. The dogs had to crawl on their bellies and dig their claws into the ice to keep from sliding back down.

At one point, a fierce blast of wind lifted the dogs and sled into the air. While Kaasen tried to help the team, the medicine dropped into the snow. He searched frantically with his bare hands. Luckily, he found it.

The team raced through the blizzard for hours. There was so much snow in the air, Kaasen couldn’t see the trail. He couldn’t even see the dogs. “I didn’t know where I was,” he said. “I couldn’t even guess.”

Kaasen held on to the sled as the dogs ran and ran. Balto’s paws were cold, sore, and bloody. He was exhausted from the long run. Even though he was tired, Balto would not quit. He led his team all night and into the morning.

Balto kept the team going all night. He kept them going through frigid winds. He ran with them through deep snow. He led them up icy hills. They had to dig their claws into the ice so they wouldn’t slide down.

At one point, a blast of wind lifted the dogs and sled into the air. Kaasen tried to help the team. As he did, the medicine fell into the snow. Kaasen was upset. He searched for it with his bare hands. Luckily, he found the medicine.

The team raced through the blizzard. They ran for hours. The air was filled with snow. Kaasen couldn’t see the trail. He couldn’t even see the dogs. “I didn’t know where I was,” he said. “I couldn’t even guess.”

Kaasen held on to the sled as the dogs ran. Balto’s paws were cold and sore. He was exhausted from the long run. But Balto wouldn’t quit. He led his team all night. He led them into the morning. 

The team persevered through many challenges. They ran through thick snow and ice. At one point, a strong wind lifted the dogs into the air. The medicine dropped into the snow. Luckily, Kaasen found it.

The team ran for hours. Balto was tired from the long run. But he would not quit. He led his team all night and into the morning.

People in Nome woke up to the sound of barking dogs. It was Balto and his team! The medicine had frozen solid. But it would still work. The teams had succeeded. The people of Nome were saved. And Balto was a hero.  


Bettmann/Getty Images

Kaasen, Balto, and the team arrive in Nome to deliver the medicine.

A Hero

A Hero



At 5:30 a.m., the people of Nome woke up to the sound of barking dogs.

It was Balto and his team! They had made it. Kaasen knelt next to Balto and gently pulled chunks of ice off his paws. “Fine dog,” he whispered.

The medicine had frozen solid, but it would still work. Balto, and all the teams who had taken part in this incredible trip, had succeeded. The people of Nome were saved. And Balto was a hero. 

It was 5:30 a.m. in Nome. The people there woke up to the sound of barking dogs. It was Balto and his team! They had made it. Kaasen went to Balto. He pulled ice off Balto’s paws. “Fine dog,” he whispered.

The medicine had frozen. But it would still work. The dogsled teams had done it. The people of Nome were saved. And Balto was a hero. 



AlphaAndOmega/Alamy Stock Photo

This statue in New York City honors Balto.

THINK AND WRITE 

Imagine your town wants to build a statue of Balto. Using details from the story, write a sign for the statue that explains why Balto deserves to be honored. Five winners will each receive a Scholastic Store e-gift card. See our contest page for details. 

THINK AND WRITE 

Imagine your town wants to build a statue of Balto. Using details from the story, write a sign for the statue that explains why Balto deserves to be honored. Five winners will each receive a Scholastic Store e-gift card. See our contest page for details. 

THINK AND WRITE 

Imagine your town wants to build a statue of Balto. Using details from the story, write a sign for the statue that explains why Balto deserves to be honored. Five winners will each receive a Scholastic Store e-gift card. See our contest page for details. 


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Can't Miss Teaching Extras
From the Storyworks 3 Archives

Pair this article with “The Pigeon Hero of WWI,” the Big Read feature from the May/June 2020 issue. Just as Balto helped the people of Nome, Cher Ami (a carrier pigeon in the U.S. Army) helped save the lives of nearly 200 soldiers in 1918.

Meet Togo

Balto was one of about 150 sled dogs that helped get the lifesaving medicine from Nenana to Nome. Learn about Togo, the lead dog for the longest part of the journey, at the National Park Service’s website. Like Balto, Togo has a statue in New York City.

Learn About the History of Dogs

Visit the Storyworks 3 archives for our December 2018/January 2019 paired texts feature, “The History of Dogs”/”How America Went Dog Crazy.”

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

Table of Contents

1. Preparing to Read

2. Close Reading

3. SEL Focus

4. Skill Building and Writing

5. Differentiate and Customize

Struggling Readers, Multilingual Learners, Advanced Readers, Creative Writing

1. Preparing to Read

Preview Text Features  (20 minutes)  

  • Help students prepare to read the article by showing the Background Builder Slideshow. 

  • We offer several reading experiences for this article. As a first read, have students either watch the Video Read-Aloud, in which author Blair Rainsford introduces and narrates the article as it comes to life with images; listen to the Author Read-Aloud; or read the article in the magazine or digitally.

  • Look at pages 4-5 with the class. Read aloud the headline and subhead to students. Ask: What does the main image show? 

  • Ask students to predict what this article will be about based on the headline, subhead, and images. Have them review their predictions after they finish reading.

  • Explain that the images and captions provide information that will help them better understand the events of the story.

Introduce Vocabulary (15 minutes)

  • We have highlighted in bold seven words that may be challenging and defined each on the bottom of the page on which it appears: remote, treacherous, blizzard, obstacles, persevered, frigid, and exhausted.

  • Preview these words by projecting or distributing our Vocabulary Skill Builder and completing it as a class. You may also play our Vocabulary Slideshow, in which audio and images help students with pronunciation and comprehension.

Set a Purpose for Reading (5 minutes)

  • Call on volunteers to read aloud the Think and Read box on page 4 and the Think and Write box on page 9. These support the story’s featured skill, problem and solution. Remind students to keep in mind the Think and Read prompt as they read the article.

2. Close Reading

Reading and Unpacking the Text

  • First read: Read the story as a class. Use the Pause and Think questions at the end of each section to check comprehension. 

  • Second read: Project, distribute, or assign the Close-Reading and Critical-Thinking Questions to the class. Preview them together. Ask students to read the article again and answer the questions as a class or in small groups. (Alternatively, assign all or part of the Learning Journey Slide Deck, which contains the questions—along with other activities from this lesson plan and links to the story and Video Read-Aloud.) 

  • Follow up with the SEL Focus activity.

Close-Reading Questions (30 minutes)

  • Read the first section. What big problems were the people of Nome facing in the winter of 1925? (identifying a problem) The big problems the people of Nome faced were that people were sick with diphtheria;  the town was out of the medicine needed to help them; the nearest medicine was hundreds of miles away; and Nome was hard to get to in winter.
  • Why was it so difficult to reach Nome during the winter? (cause and effect) It was hard to reach Nome during the winter because most of the usual ways into town couldn’t be used. Thick snow blocked the roads. Strong winds made flying dangerous. Ships couldn’t travel there because the water near Nome was too icy.
  • Read “A Race to Save Nome.” How was the town’s plan to get the medicine to Nome similar to a relay race? (key idea) The town’s plan to get the medicine to Nome was like a relay race because a group of dogsled teams would each run part of the way. Each team would pass the medicine to the next team, as runners do in a relay race when one passes a baton or ball off to the next runner. 
  • Read “Smart and Brave.” Why do you think the author ends the section the way she does? (author’s craft) The author ends the section with a description of the dogsled team in trouble. They’ve stopped in the cold, heavy snow and can’t find the trail. The last words of the section are “They were lost!” The author probably ends the section this way to build excitement about what will happen next and to keep you interested in reading the rest of the story.
  • Read “The Frozen River.” What two obstacles did Balto handle in this section? How did Balto’s actions save his team’s life? (problem and solution, cause and effect) The first obstacle Balto handled was being able to pick up the scent of the trail after the dogs lost sight of it. If they had not been able to find the trail again, the team would have frozen to death. The second obstacle Balto handled was stopping on a river when he started to break through the ice. If he had continued, the team would have fallen into the freezing water.
  • Read “Through the Blizzard.” What are three details from this section that show the difficulties faced by the team as they raced through the blizzard? (supporting  details) Answers will vary but may include: The snow was as high as Balto’s ears; to keep from sliding down the ice, dogs had to crawl on their bellies and dig their claws into the ice; a fierce blast of wind lifted the dogs and sled into the air; Gunnar Kaasen had to search with his bare hands to find the medicine when it dropped into the snow.
  • Read “A Hero.”  Look at the photograph on page 9. How do you think the people of Nome probably felt when Balto and his team arrived? (inference) The people of Nome probably felt happy and relieved when Balto and his team arrived with the lifesaving medicine.

Critical-Thinking Questions (10 minutes)

  • How did Gunnar Kaasen probably feel as his dog team struggled in the blizzard? (inference) Kaasen probably felt very worried. Although he hoped Balto would succeed, the weather conditions were very difficult. There was so much snow in the air that he couldn’t see the dogs and didn’t know where he was part of the time. The lives of the people in Nome were at risk if the team failed, and Kaasen and his dogs were in danger too.
  • Think about how the dogsled teams worked together to deliver the medicine to the people of Nome. Have you ever worked with a team to complete a project or achieve a goal? How did teamwork help your group achieve its goal? (connecting to text) Answers will vary but should include details that explain the importance of teamwork.

3. SEL Focus

Perseverance

Despite encountering many difficulties, Kaasen and the dogs did not give up. Go over the definition of persevered (at the bottom of page 8) and call on students to provide examples of how Kaasen, Balto, and the rest of the team persevered during their journey to Nome. Ask: Why do you think Kaasen and his dogsled team refused to give up? Was there a time when you wanted to give up on something but chose not to? What made you keep trying?

4. Skill Building and Writing

Featured Skill: Problem and Solution

  • Distribute our Problem and Solution Skill Builder and have students complete it in class or for homework.  

  • Discuss the writing assignment in the Think and Write box on page 9. Students can complete their signs in class or as homework.

Differentiate and Customize
For Striving Readers

Have students read the lower-Lexile version of the article. As they read, students should look for and highlight the problems in the story and their solutions. Prompt students to use one color to mark problems and a different color to mark solutions. Then work with students to complete the Problem and Solution Skill Builder as a group. (When students read an article online in Presentation View, they can use the highlighter tool to mark the text.)

For Multilingual Learners

Your multilingual learners might need help breaking down the plot of this action-packed, description-rich story. Have them read the lower-Lexile version independently, section by section, pausing to highlight or write down words or sentences they find difficult. (You can also have them do this before meeting as a group.) Pause at the end of each section and discuss what students found difficult. Make sure they understand the main idea of each section before going on to the next. (When students read an article online in Presentation View, they can use the highlighter tool to mark the text.)

For Advanced Readers

Ask students to write the headline and first paragraph of a newspaper story about the 1925 race to deliver medicine to Nome, Alaska. Have them include key details that describe the various obstacles the town and the dogsled teams faced and how they overcame those obstacles.

For STEAM Learning

Many dramatic moments are described in the story. Ask students to choose one and create an illustration that captures the details of that moment. Students can draw their illustrations, make them with collage materials, or even create a diorama. Invite students to share their artwork in a classroom gallery.

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