Monday, December 31, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: The Impossible Rescue by Martin W. Sandler

Nonfiction Monday is a weekly meme in the Kidlitosphere that invites bloggers to read and review a nonfiction book on Monday as a way to promote high-quality nonfiction titles.  Each week, a different blogger "hosts" Nonfiction Monday and provides a roundup of all the posts.  This week Nonfiction Monday is hosted by Prose and Kahn.

The Impossible Rescue: The True Story of an Amazing Arctic Adventure by Martin W. Sandler

It's getting a bit chilly out, so I thought it was time to take Nonfiction Monday to the arctic.  Nothing makes you feel warmer and cozier than reading about a rescue mission through the arctic of Alaska to save the crews of icebound whaling ships!

It was September of 1897 when eight whaling vessels became trapped in ice off the northern coast of Alaska.  Benjamin Tilton, the captain of the Alexander, had hoped for the early cold and ice to  pass and to be able to sail back to San Francisco, but the temperatures only dropped and the ice thickened.  As the ships resigned themselves to spending the winter in the arctic, arrangements were made for some of the crew to take shelter at the nearby whaling station.  But there were some 300 men spread out across the eight trapped ships and there weren't enough food or supplies to last through the long, harsh winter.  Miraculously, Tilton was able to free his ship from the ice, but he knew the others wouldn't be so lucky, and made plans to request assistance from none other than the President of the United States, William McKinley, for an emergency rescue mission.  Nothing like this had ever been attempted, and it took the labors of hundreds of reindeer, sled dogs, indigenous peoples who understood the climate and terrain and several brave Americans to mastermind a several hundred mile overland trek to bring food, clothing, medicine and other much-needed supplies to these desperate men.  It was a perilous journey and so many things could and did go wrong.  But so many things also went right.  What the journey revealed, however, was the value of working animals, the generosity of people and the critical knowledge of native people can combine to beat the odds and make the impossible possible.

Fortunately for Sandler (and thus for the reader!), many of the men kept logs and journals, and one was an amateur photographer, so ample documentation exists of this most treacherous expedition.  The photographs are particularly amazing, as they progress throughout the journey, capturing images of the sleds, dogs, reindeer, guides, shelters and most especially the icy cold landscape.  Thanks to the journals, the reader is also able to see just how appreciative the men leading the rescue were of the natives who provided shelter and food and other assistance along the way and of the dogs who pulled the heavy loads of supplies.  No contribution to the rescue is overlooked or undiscussed.  From start to finish, the rescue mission was a race against time and the elements.  Sandler deftly builds the tension, noting all of the hardships and near-misses that could have foiled the entire effort.  The inclusion of a "What Happened to Them" section was particularly of interest, as many heroes from the rescue went on to do additional work in the arctic.

Highly recommended true life adventure for middle school and high school readers.  This is one I will be handing directly to one of my 8th grade students who is focusing his reading this year on shipwrecks and rescues.  He's already read Left for Dead, Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World and The Revenge of the Whale, and I think this will be a perfect next read.

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