immediately captures the reader’s attention with the captivating canine eyes painted on the cover. Robert Blake is not
only a wonderful author, he is a gifted artist. The oil paintings give the impression of freezing cold with the snow layered
on the fur of the dogs. The blue, silver, and white colors of the snow coupled with dark overtones depicting the long Alaskan
nights set the scene of dark desperation as the dogsled team struggles to complete the journey.
TOGO is the story of the 1925 effort to bring
lifesaving diphtheria vaccination serum to the town of Nome, Alaska.
The team’s musher, Leonhard Seppala, took the job of driving his sled team to Nulato, 300 miles away from Nome,
to bring the serum back in order to prevent a devastating epidemic. The trip was made under the worst of weather conditions.
It was successful in large part because of Togo, Seppala’s
Blake begins the story with tales of Togo’s “puppyhood”
which show the dog’s personality and love of leading the sled. These stories bring the dog to life for the reader. The
maps at the beginning and end of the story illustrate the path that Togo
and Seppala took, and help the reader to follow the journey. The paintings of the half-frozen dogs and the description of
their stomachs freezing (where their fur is the thinnest) in the blizzard conditions as they fought their way over the frozen
water of Norton’s Bay will captivate even the youngest reader’s imagination. Even though the painting on the cover
of the book is so realistic, my favorite illustration is the one that depicts Togo
looking at Seppala with “Eyes that would not let go. They said, Your team has
given you all they have.”
I especially like the epilogue which explains that Togo
is the unsung hero of this heroic effort to save the town of Nome. Togo
led his team over 350 miles; a team led by a dog named Balto ran the last 53 miles of the run. And it is Balto who has been
honored as the hero who saved Nome. Robert Blake’s purpose in writing this
story is to say that “the hero is not always the dog who crosses the finish line first, but, as in this case, the dog
who made the last lap even possible.”
I believe that he fulfilled his purpose. Many school children and adults will spread the word that Togo
is a true hero.
Blake, Robert. 2002. TOGO. New York: Philomel Books. ISBN: 0399233814.