The Impossible Rescue: The True Story of an Amazing Arctic Adventure

Sandler, Martin W. The Impossible Rescue: The True Story of an Amazing Arctic Adventure Candlewick, 2012. 176pp. Lexile 1270.

What an amazing story of courage and danger! In 1897, eight whaling ships were stranded by ice in the Arctic, with 265 crew members facing possible death from starvation, exposure, or illness.  President McKinley ordered a rescue effort by the Revenue Cutter Service, one of the predecessors of the Coast Guard.  Two officers and a surgeon from the Service proved remarkable heroes as they traveled 1500 miles by sled and on foot to save the whaling men.  The ingenious plan was to herd reindeer overland to Point Barrow, the whaling station nearest to the ships.  With the help of various locals, including many of the indigenous people, the three put the plan into effect, constantly battling the elements as they used dogsleds and sleds pulled by reindeer over treacherous terrain, through snowy conditions including blizzards.  Frequent maps make trip easy to follow.  Quotes from impressively well-written official reports and letters as well as articles and books written after the event make the ordeal feel immediate.  Amazing, sometimes haunting, photographs of journey by the surgeon show the stranded ships, the people involved, sleds, sled dogs, and reindeer, all set against a snowy terrain. Excellent back matter includes an appendix on what happened to the main players, timeline, source notes, bibliography, and index.  A not-to-be-missed true survival story.

Reading Std #5: Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and/or larger portions of the text relate to each other and the whole. Sandler makes the most of every feature in this book.  Have students look at how the table of contents goes beyond laying out the structure to conveying a sense of the story and its emotional impact.  Have them also consider why the author chose not to use  sidebars, unlike most contemporary historical nonfiction.

Nonfiction Tie-in:  Pair this with Jennifer Armstrong's Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance.