Natalie Standiford - The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto

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The True Story of Balto

Mar 24, 2002 (Updated Mar 30, 2002)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:for beginning readers, true story


The Bottom Line: This is a wonderful book for beginning readers that will teach them a bit of history at the same time.

How “Balto” Came Into Our Home

My in-laws love to buy my kids books for Christmas and for their birthdays, so I wasn’t surprised that each of my older kids received books (along with toys) this past Christmas.

“The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto” (henceforth referred to as “Balto”) was chosen for my four year old son because my in-laws had lived in Alaska for a year recently and my sister-in-law and her family (who were down in the lower 48 visiting for Christmas) currently live there.

Nuts & Bolts

Natalie Standiford is the author of “Balto.” I am unfamiliar with any of her other books.

Donald Cook gives “Balto” life with his vivid, though ‘unpolished’ illustrations. The colors used are soft and mainly earth tones.

Random House of New York is the publisher of “Balto.”

“Balto” is a Step 2 Book in Random House’s STEP Into Reading series, intended for grade levels 1-3.

This book bears a copyright date of 1989 and is 46 pages long.

The Story
Balto was a sled dog in Nome, Alaska 1925. At that time there was no other option for travel most of the year than a dogsled, so the sled dogs were very important animals indeed. Balto worked for a mining company and carried food and tools to miners.

Balto was a lead dog, blazing a trail. This position is afforded to only the smartest and strongest dogs because of its importance.

During the winter of 1925 two children living in Nome, Alaska got very sick and their parents called on the town’s only doctor. The doctor diagnosed the children with diphtheria. The doctor didn’t have any of the proper medicine on hand, and without the medicine the children would die. Without the medicine others would catch this deadly disease and die also.

The hospital in Anchorage, some 800 miles away, had the proper medicine but no way to deliver it. They tried sending it on a train, but the train got stuck in deep snow over 700 miles away from Nome.

It was decided that the only way to have any chance, though slim as it was, was to retrieve the medicine via a sled dog relay. Balto’s owner signed him up to take a leg of the journey.

The weather raged against the animals, but somehow each dog made it to his appointed stop to pass the medicine on. One storm was so intense that a team lost two dogs. The driver of that team hitched HIMSELF to the sled to help his animals.

Balto’s leg of the journey was the next to the last, 31 miles from Bluff to Point Safety. Balto's driver--Gunnar--barely slept so that he would be ready in a moment to continue the medicine’s journey.

When Gunnar and Balto’s turn came, they kept up a good pace at first. Soon the snowdrifts made travel nearly impossible and the dogs got stuck up to their necks in snow. A slip on the ice dumped the medicine from the sled at one point, but Gunnar was able to find it again.

Gunnar and his sled team reach what Gunnar believes is a frozen stream and urges his dogs to cross. Balto refuses to cross, and when Gunnar come forward to see what the problem is he sees that the ice is cracked. Balto saves his team and driver from certain drowning in icy water. Balto's paws had stepped into the icy water and were in danger of freezing, but Gunnar's quick thinking (drying them with powdery snow) save Balto's paws.

Finally Gunnar and Balto reached Point Safety, but the next driver and team were nowhere to be found. Not taking the time to find out why, the dogs pressed on and ran on through the night to Nome. Arriving in Nome in the early morning, Balto had been on the trail for 20 straight hours and gone 53 miles!

It turned out that the reason the next team and driver hadn’t arrived was that Gunnar and Balto had made such good time that the package was 10 days ahead of schedule!

The town of Nome was saved, and Balto became a national sensation. There is a statue of Balto in New York City’s central park as a tribute to his bravery.


This story is educational in two main ways. First, it is designed to be read by early readers and give them confidence and success in this new skill. Second, it teaches a little history lesson that will appeal greatly to most kids in the intended age range (grades 1-3).

The language used in “Balto” is very simple, as is necessary to be read by early readers, but not so much so as to be patronizing.

I really enjoyed the tale of Balto, one that I was only slightly familiar with before reading this book. I had seen the DreamWorks Studios movie version of this story, but it was quite different from this version.

My oldest son (age six and a half) enjoys this story, though he’s not able to read it yet for himself. His two younger brothers (ages 2 and 4) also enjoy the tale, though are not really ready to sit still for the length of the book.


I would highly recommend this book for all budding readers, especially those who are animal lovers.

Recommend this product? Yes

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