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

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Whaling in the Arctic waters off Alaska’s coast was as dangerous as it was lucrative in 1897. In that particular year, winter came early, bringing with it storms and ice packs that caught eight American whale ships and about three hundred sailors off guard. The ships were imprisoned in ice with no hope of escape. With limited provisions on board the ships that hadn’t been crushed by the ice, there was little hope that these men could survive until warmer temperatures arrived at ...

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

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Overview

Whaling in the Arctic waters off Alaska’s coast was as dangerous as it was lucrative in 1897. In that particular year, winter came early, bringing with it storms and ice packs that caught eight American whale ships and about three hundred sailors off guard. The ships were imprisoned in ice with no hope of escape. With limited provisions on board the ships that hadn’t been crushed by the ice, there was little hope that these men could survive until warmer temperatures arrived at least ten months later.

Martin Sandler tells the incredible true adventure story of three men who were ordered by President McKinley to carry out an overland rescue that covered 1,500 miles of treacherous Alaskan terrain in the dead of winter. Their mission was to drive two herds of reindeer the distance to feed the starving men. With their own survival in the balance, these men battled raging storms, killing cold, injured sled dogs, and their own will to continue to bring relief to the stranded whale men. Entries from the journals of two of the rescuers and photographs taken by the third key member of the unlikely expedition dramatically document every mile of their heroic, unprecedented journey.

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Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal - Audio
Gr 5 Up—Eight American whaling ships carrying about 300 sailors were locked in ice off Point Barrow, Alaska, when winter struck early in the fall of 1897. They had little hope of surviving the long, dark winter with their meager supplies. After word of their plight miraculously reached President McKinley, he ordered three men to carry out a seemingly impossible rescue mission. They travelled almost 2000 miles, first by ship, then overland for more than 1700 miles through blizzards, across ice and treacherous terrain. They had to convince indigenous Alaskans to give up their reindeer to the cause, and to help the rescuers drive two herds of reindeer to Point Barrow. Relying on information from primary sources, such as journal entries, letters, and photos, Sandler's true tale (Candlewick, 2012) recounts in fascinating detail the perils of traveling through the Arctic winter, when temperatures can plummet to 60 below zero, and blizzards can blind a man the photos, maps, detailed source notes, and timeline, it still manages to captivate and enthrall with graphic details of the harrowing journey. A section called "What Happened to Them" continues the story of each of the participants, including the reindeer and the indigenous people who were so crucial to the rescue's success. Malcolm Hillgartner narrates the account with clarity and emotion, drawing listeners into this tale of endurance, hardship, and courage, and skillfully bringing this amazing mission to life.—MaryAnn Karre, West Middle School, Binghamton, NY
The New York Times Book Review
…top-notch history. Smart, well written, meticulously researched and a lot of fun.
—Pamela Paul
Publishers Weekly
In 1897, winter arrived early in the Arctic Ocean—disastrously early for the crews of eight San Francisco–based whaling ships locked in ice off the northwestern coast of Alaska. President McKinley issued an order to launch an expedition to rescue the 265 stranded whalers, which Sandler (the Through the Lens series) chronicles in scrupulous and riveting detail. When heavy ice prevented Bear, the Revenue Cutter Service ship assigned to the mission, to reach a port close to the distressed ships, its captain dropped three crew members at an accessible harbor to the south to make the nearly 2,000-mile overland trek to bring the whalers food and other provisions to keep them alive until Bear could reach them. Sandler's vivid account is laced with journal entries and illustrated by informative maps and often breathtaking b&w photographs of the rescuers, the indigenous Alaskans who aided them, the frozen Arctic wilderness, and the distressed whaling ships; many photos were taken by one of the expedition's leaders. Crisply designed with plentiful white space, this book shares a thrilling and inspirational story of determination, perseverance, and bravery. Ages 10–14. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
Outstanding nonfiction writing that makes history come alive.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

A terrific true tale, well told.
—Booklist (starred review)

Using extensive primary sources in the form of journals, reports, letters, and photographs, Sandler has pieced together a stirring and evocative retelling of this historical adventure. The writing draws readers into both the suspense of reaching the struggling whalers in time as well as the dire, life-threatening conditions that the rescuers themselves faced.
—School Library Journal (starred review)

Crisply designed with plentiful white space, this book shares a thrilling and inspirational story of determination, perseverance, and bravery.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

VOYA - Diane Colson
In the late nineteenth century, whaling was both extremely profitable and extremely dangerous. Men pitted their skills against giant whales that could weigh as much as one hundred tons. In the fall of 1897, five whaling ships laid anchor at Point Barrow Station, at the northernmost point of Alaska, waiting out an unseasonable ice storm. While one ship managed to ram through the thickening ice, 265 men remained stranded, facing a winter of temperatures that could plummet to sixty degrees below zero. The only way to reach these men would involve an overland hike of over 1,500 miles. Sound impossible? Veteran writer Sandler takes readers through the entire adventure, well captured in first-person accounts and incredible photographs. Maps trace the progress of the rescue mission, illustrating the unimaginable distance along the treacherous coast of present-day Alaska. In Sandler's words, history becomes adventure, with real-life heroes, dangers, and mishaps. He emphasizes the essential role of the indigenous people, who sacrificed much to help rescue men they would never meet. Fans of Caroline Alexander's The Endurance (Knopf, 1998) or Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air (Villard, 1997) will find this tale an equally harrowing adventure set in an unforgiving frozen environment. Detailed source notes, a time line, and a "What Happened to Them?" section give readers multiple springboards for further research. Reviewer: Diane Colson
Children's Literature - Heather Welsh
The hunt for the colossal bowhead took Benjamin Tilton, the captain of the whaleship Alexander, into subzero temperatures and landmass-sized, immobile stretches of ice. Joining Tilton were four other ships, the Orca, the Belvedere, the Jesse H. Freeman, and the Rosario. Each ship's crew faced numerous perils, such as a late start, foul weather, and a dwindling food supply. If a ship became entrapped in ice, the lives of all its crew members were endangered. All five ships were in just such a crisis. The nearest whaling station was sixty-five miles, and a five-day trek across an artic wasteland. Even if the men could make the journey, the meager whaling station and bunkhouse they would find there were not equipped to house and feed so many people. Once there, living conditions were unsanitary and many crew members refused to do any work to improve the situation. In a desperate attempt to free his ship from the ice, Captain Tilton used its steam-power to ram its way through the ice. If he could make his way back to San Francisco, he could bring back vital supplies and help. If he is unable to do so, hundreds of men could die. Did Tilton successfully make the voyage and save his fleet? The book's photographs support the meaning of the text, and excerpts from the diaries of crew members bring the story to life. This will appeal to reluctant readers and give support to struggling readers. Teachers could use the text to compare and contrast the voyages and living conditions of the whaling crews to those of the Jamestown settlers. The book concludes with a timeline that recounts the most important events and source notes and bibliography pages, which could be used as a teaching tool for how to create a works cited page. Reviewer: Heather Welsh
School Library Journal
Gr 5 Up—Endurance. Fortitude. Bravery. Any of these words could easily describe the people involved in this amazing, but little-known rescue-adventure. The year was 1897 and whaling was big business in America. Whaleship captains hunting in the Arctic Circle, pushing for more whales and the profits they meant, ended up stranded by the ice pack, affecting eight ships and their crews. One ship managed to escape the danger and alert the U.S. government to the predicament, thus setting in motion a nearly "impossible rescue." A few daring men with the experience and willingness to tackle such a mission quickly gathered their supplies and courage and headed north to bring food in the form of herded reindeer and help to some 300 sailors stuck in the Arctic winter. Using extensive primary sources in the form of journals, reports, letters, and photographs, Sandler has pieced together a stirring and evocative retelling of this historical adventure. The writing draws readers into both the suspense of reaching the struggling whalers in time as well as the dire, life-threatening conditions that the rescuers themselves faced. Archival black-and-white photographs taken during the journey help pull the whole story together and prove an excellent visual accompaniment to the unfolding drama. An epilogue answers many of the "what happened after…" questions, and extensive source notes round out the back matter. For readers who prefer their drama to be true, suggest this title along with Jennifer Armstrong's Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World (Crown, 1998), Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air (Villard, 1997), and Dolores Johnson's Onward: a Photobiography of African-American Polar Explorer Matthew Henson (National Geographic, 2005).—Jody Kopple, Shady Hill School, Cambridge, MA
Kirkus Reviews
Sandler brings to life an extraordinary true adventure tale set on the treacherous Arctic terrain. In September 1897, eight whaling vessels became icebound near Point Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point in America, and 265 men faced starvation. Acting on orders from President McKinley, Secretary of the Treasury Lyman Gage sent Capt. Francis Tuttle and his ship, the Bear, on a rescue mission. He would take the Bear as far north as possible, put three officers ashore and send them over 1,500 miles overland to aid the men. Using a combination of dog-powered and reindeer-drawn sleds, herding 400 reindeer and living off the land along the way, the three-man rescue team, with immense help from indigenous people, succeeded in their journey through the Arctic winter, arriving 103 days after leaving the Bear. Remarkable photographs, many taken by one of the rescuing officers, grace just about every spread, and even the captions are fascinating. The narrative's excitement is heightened by the words of the participants, drawn from their actual letters, diaries, journals and other personal reminiscences. Maps are well drawn, documentation is meticulous, and the backmatter includes a section on what happened to the key players and a useful timeline. Outstanding nonfiction writing that makes history come alive. (source notes, bibliography, photography credits, index) (Nonfiction. 10 & up)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781455851973
  • Publisher: Candlewick on Brilliance Audio
  • Publication date: 9/28/2012
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Pages: 4
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 7.12 (w) x 6.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Martin Sandler

Martin W. Sandler has written more than seventy books for children and adults and has written and produced seven television series. He has twice been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and has won multiple Emmy Awards. He lives in Massachusetts.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2013

    Great true adventure story.

    This story has everything young readers would relate to...danger, suspense, daring heros and great historic photos to bring the story to life. Best of all, it is history. I bought this for my 12 year old grandson, but read it myself first and would definitely recommend it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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