A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
- Happy birthday Mem Fox (Time for Bed) and Gary Hogg (Scrambled Eggs and Spider Legs).
- Itâ€™s the birth date of Howard Pyle (1853â€“1911), Otto of the Silver Hand, Errol Le Cain (1941â€“1989), The Twelve Dancing Princesses.
- In 1770, a riot known as the Boston Massacre, one of the key events that turned British colonists against King George III, took place in what would become the capital of Massachusetts. Read For Liberty: The Story of the Boston Massacre by Timothy Decker.
- Winston Churchill uses the phrase â€śIron Curtainâ€ť in a speech on this day in 1946. Read The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter SĂs.
Today the Iditarod, â€śthe last great race on earth,â€ť begins in Anchorage, Alaska. Dog teams and humans will travel 1,150 miles through Alaskan wilderness to Nome. Some families and classes like to encourage children to pick a team and follow it throughout the month, writing about its journey. And for a story to introduce dog racing, no better book exists than John Reynolds Gardinerâ€™s Stone Fox.
An engaging young boy, Willy, lives with his grandfather on a farm in Alaska. The old man has been declining in health, refusing to leave his bed. He owes $500 in back taxes and soon will lose his home. Willy wants to save both his grandfather and the farm, so he enters his dog Searchlight in the National Dogsled Race, which offers $500 in prize money. Because the trail goes past his house, he and Searchlight have the advantage of running on home territory, but they will be pitted against the legendary Native American racer Stone Fox. The details of the tense race keep readers enthralled, all the way to its surprising end.
Of all the writers I have researched over the years, John Reynolds Gardiner seems the least likely to have produced such a powerful and memorable book. As a boy he was very rebellious. Since his parents thought he should learn to read, he refused. He didnâ€™t read his first novel until he turned nineteen and struggled with grammar and spelling throughout his life. In college he found that English as a Second Language (ESL) students could write better than he could. After taking up engineering as a career, Gardiner worked for McDonnell Douglas and even holds a patent for a plastic necktie filled with water and guppies.
Still, it is a long way from clever toys to classic literature. Encouraged by his brother, Gardiner took a television writing class from Martin Tahse, a creator of After School Specials. When Harper & Row editor Barbara Fenton wrote to Tahse, asking him if he had a book he might want to write, he sent her instead to Gardiner, who was working on a story based on a Rocky Mountain legend. Fenton took a chance on this unknown writer, teaching him the craft of writing along the way. The book took several years to develop but always seemed to her worth the time. In the end she read a manuscript that combined elements of adventure, sports, Westerns, and dog stories.
If you know any second through fourth grade reading rebels, Stone Fox read either aloud or silently just might convince them that a great story can be found in the pages of a book. It was created by someone like themâ€”another reading rebel.
Hereâ€™s a section from Stone Fox:
That evening little Willy made a discovery.Â
He was sitting at the foot of Grandfather’s bed playing the harmonica. He wasn’t as good as Grandfather by a long shot, and whenever he missed a note Searchlight would put her head back and howl.
Once, when little Willy was way off key, Searchlight actually grabbed the harmonica in her mouth and ran out of the room with it.
“Do you want me to play some more?” little Willy asked Grandfather, knowing very well that Grandfather would not answer. Grandfather had not talked–not one word–for over three weeks.
But something happened that was almost like talking.
Grandfather put his hand down on the bed with his palm facing upward. Little Willy looked at the hand for a long time and then asked, in a whisper, “Does that mean ‘yes’?”
Grandfather closed his hand slowly, and then opened it again.
Originally posted March 5, 2011. Updated for .