Reviews for Incredible Life of Balto

Booklist Reviews 2011 July #1
McCarthy, who brought us such stranger-than-fiction stories as Aliens Are Coming: The True Account of the 1938 War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast (2006) and Strong Man: The Story of Charles Atlas (2007), returns with this heartfelt tale of a dog jerked about by human whims. Balto was a rather unexceptional sled dog when a 1925 diphtheria outbreak in Nome, Alaska, resulted in him leading a dog team 600 icy miles to deliver serum. Fame followed: a statue was erected in New York City; he starred in a movie; next came the vaudeville circuit; and, finally, like many human performers before him, Balto found himself eking out an existence in a desultory sideshow--before a Cleveland businessman came to the rescue. It's a lovely, unlikely story, which McCarthy lightens with her colorful cartoon paintings of Balto as a slender, pop-eyed innocent who dutifully does what he's told. The animal angle makes this an easy sell for kids, but they'll be surprised at the depth of what follows. An author's note (unavailable for review) closes this out. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2012 Spring
McCarthy recounts the engaging tale of Balto, the sled dog that led a team carrying lifesaving medication from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. The text delves into Balto's later life, which included starring in a movie, performing on vaudeville, and retiring to the Brookside Zoo in Cleveland, Ohio. McCarthy's recognizable illustrations, starring big-eyed, big-hearted characters, enhance the journey. Bib.

Kirkus Reviews 2011 July #2

Every dog has his day, but Balto's life is comparable to an early 20th-century movie star's.

McCarthy's coverage begins in Nome, Alaska, in 1925. Dr. Welch presides at the bedside of a diphtheria-stricken child and follows up with a desperate telegram for the serum needed to prevent an epidemic. While Balto's legendary role in braving a blizzard to deliver the antitoxin in record time is dramatically portrayed, the author's primary interest lies in recounting the rest of the Siberian husky's story. Balto went on to star in a film about the relay race that prefigured the Iditarod. He stayed at the Biltmore in Los Angeles, rubbed elbows with famous actors and posed for a sculpture in New York's Central Park. When the canine's fortunes changed, he performed in vaudeville until a Cleveland businessman (and schoolchildren) paid for his transfer to a zoo. Employing the style established in her previous historical investigations (ranging from Charles Atlas to bubble gum), the author selects child-friendly details, explains challenging words in context and re-creates period documents and settings. Her signature acrylic caricatures, identifiable by oversized eyes, convey a sense of attentiveness in keeping with the narrative. The predominance of snow and gray light creates a mood of remote desolation; the palette brightens to warm greens at the conclusion.

An intelligent read-aloud for those not quite ready to tackle the existing independent readers. (maps, author's note) (Picture book/biography. 5-8)

Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2011 May #4

Having previously highlighted high-profile animals in City Hawk: The Story of Pale Male and Seabiscuit the Wonder Horse, McCarthy turns to Balto, the famous sled dog, to explore his life after the spotlight stopped shining. After making an arduous journey to deliver medicine to combat diphtheria in Nome, Alaska, in 1925, Balto and his owner at first enjoy fame. But after a statue and a starring movie role, Balto's fortunes change when he's sold to a vaudeville act. Though McCarthy's caricature-styled acrylics at times seem incongruous for the subject matter--the googly eyes on both dogs and people may even elicit laughter in some scenes--they temper the grim parts of the tale. Straightforward narration keeps this picture-book biography moving toward its happy conclusion: "With the help of Cleveland newspaper, word of Balto's and the other dogs' poor treatment spread. Children donated their pennies, people passed around collection hats at their jobs" in a successful bid to bring the dog team to a local zoo. It's an accessible introduction to the story of Balto, and a reminder of the fickle nature of fame. Ages 5-8. (Aug.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2011 June

Gr 1-5--Beginning with the diphtheria outbreak of 1925 in Nome, AK, this book relates how musher Gunnar Kaasen and sled team leader Balto embarked on a heroic relay race to deliver the crucial serum through the frigid snow and ice. Unlike many other books on the subject, the story does not end there. Readers follow the canine to Los Angeles for the opening of the biopic, Balto's Race to Nome, where he received a bone-shaped key to the city. Sadly, "A grapple over money caused the dogsled team to be sold…first to a vaudeville act and later to a paltry sideshow. "There Balto and the others were all but forgotten." Here, the once-energetic racers are depicted inert with heavy chains and an upside-down dish of kibble. An indignant businessman in Cleveland helped popularize the animals' cause; the public rallied with school collections and fundraisers to help buy the team, after which he donated them to a zoo "so that all of the people who had helped rescue them could visit….There Balto could relax and enjoy the rest of his life." McCarthy's signature childlike cartoons feature bug-eyed characters rendered in acrylics on gessoed paper. The endpapers show a map of the serum run and Iditarod route. This engaging, informative nonfiction picture book is an ideal read-aloud. Concise, well-chosen text and bold, humorous illustrations make it a first choice.--Barbara Auerbach, PS 217, Brooklyn, NY

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