The children's book "The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto" by Natalie Standiford is a retelling of the true story of Balto -- an Alaskan sled dog who led musher Gunnar Kaasen and his team in delivering medicine to Nome, Alaska during a diphtheria outbreak in 1925. After reading the book, plan a variety of activities for students, in kindergarten to second grade, to help them understand the themes and characters of the book and to learn more about this dramatic event.
Story Theme Discussion
As a group, discuss key information and themes of the story. Encourage discussion by asking students questions like "Where did the story take place?" and "Why was Balto's role as lead dog important?" A major theme of the story is heroism, as Balto is a hero for having helped saved many lives; have students discuss their personal heroes. This activity will get students to reflect on the story and become further engaged in its themes.
Characteristics of Balto
Identifying Balto's traits is ideal for first-graders and it helps familiarize them with adjectives and descriptive language. Have each student draw a picture of Balto and then surround the drawing with words that describe him. These can be words taken directly from the story or ones they think of themselves. Examples of words that the students might write include "brave," "strong," and "heroic." For younger students, this activity can be done as a group; have students describe Balto and you can write the words on a poster.
Personal Journal Activity
Have students imagine that they were on Balto's trip and have them write a journal chronicling their adventures. This activity is ideal for second-graders, as it allows them to exercise their creative-writing skills. The journal should chronicle the entire trip -- starting from when Balto left Nenana to when the medicine was finally delivered in Nome. Have students write the journal from their perspective and encourage them to be imaginative -- describing the cold and stormy weather, how difficult the trek must have been and how they felt when they arrived safely in Nome and delivered the medicine.
Tracking Balto's Journey
To link the book with geography, have students track Balto's journey on a map of Alaska. Get a large copy of a map of Alaska and as a group locate Nenana, the town where Balto's trip started, and Nome, the town where the medicine was delivered. Discuss with students the distance between these places, how the terrain is and Alaska's weather patterns to get them to further understand how challenging Balto's trip was. Tell students about the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race -- a yearly race that takes place in Alaska to celebrate the sport of dog sledding. A portion of the race is done in commemoration of Balto's historic trek and follows the same terrain.
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