If fascinating photographs and colorful illustrations define a children's' book, then "Bears of Alaska -- the Wild Bruins of the Last Frontier" and "Storm Run -- the Story of the First Woman to Win the Iditarod Sled Dog Race" are definitely for children. But if science, geography and historical facts are meant for adult readers, then these two books are perfect for an informative, enjoyable and inspiring timeout for grown-ups.
"Bears of Alaska -- the Wild Bruins of the Last Frontier"
By Erwin and Peggy Bauer
From wide-eyed, pink-nosed, innocent-looking cubs to close-ups of a mature grizzly bear's fearsome non-retractable claws, wildlife photographers Erwin and Peggy Bauer have seen and photographed it all. And from cover to cover, "Bears of Alaska" is a showcase for fascinating close-ups of Alaska's polar, black and brown bears.
The dance of two polar bears set against an arctic sun. A sleepy black bear cub resting on the branch of an alder. A grizzly mother and cub waiting for some fast food on the gravel shores of the McNeil River.
Pairing the photographs with text, the Bauers describe their impressions of the McNeil River, where a lottery selects visitors to the area.
"I have been to the McNeil River many times, and despite devoting a lifetime to wildlife photography, I have never exposed so much film so quickly," is big praise from a couple that has photographed wildlife and the outdoors around the world. Their magazine credits include "Audubon," "National Geographic," "Natural History," "Sports Afield" and "Nature Conservancy." They've published more than a dozen books of their photography and writing. Their work appears in other books, on calendars, catalog covers, greeting and postcards, posters and video covers. And they claim a half million images in their own photo file.
Nearly 30 years of the Bauers' work is reflected on the pages of "Bears of Alaska." Images and brief stories combine to heighten the impact.
"Alaskan biologists are among the leaders in polar bear research," is the introduction to the tale of a female and two cubs that were tracked by biologists from the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay, across the top of the world to Canada's Ellesmere Island. On the following page, three polar bears, illuminated by the soft orange glow of a northern sun, peer through ice in search of seals.
A full-tummied black bear, relaxing on its back, looks upside down into the camera, while readers pick up tips on the color variations of this species, ranging from dark black to cinnamon, tan and even, in the Yakutat Bay area, a gray-blue or silvery color.
A female grizzly glows in the fading golden light of a summer day at McNeil River, surrounded by lush green beach grass and a driftwood-strewn gravel stretch while the Bauers describe the physical make-up that makes this "formidable beast" capable of running, swimming and exhibiting "greater endurance than any human."
A list of bear-viewing sites and safety tips, plus a bibliography, round out the book's contents.
"With so much wildlife vanishing around the world, we cannot afford to be complacent about the long-term fate of Alaska's bears," the Bauers write. "Viewing opportunities in the Great Land are plentiful today, but it is up to us to save this treasure for generations to come."
"Storm Run -- The Story of the First Woman to Win the Iditarod Sled Dog Race" By Libby Riddles, Illustrated by Shannon Cartwright
"Storm Run -- The Story of the First Woman to Win the Iditarod Sled Dog Race"
By Libby Riddles
Illustrated by Shannon Cartwright
This inspiring story of childhood dreams realized is a timeless tale made bigger by the dreamer, the dream and the setting.
For Libby Riddles, a blonde-haired youngster from the Lower 48 whose home was filled with an assortment of animals, it began as a dream of ranching in the West.
"It was this little girl's dream about living a life surrounded by animals that eventually led me north to Alaska -- and to the Iditarod Trail," Riddles, of Homer, writes in her newest book.
By the time she was 16, the dream was clouded with the limited imaginings of youth. After a winter saving her earnings from a day job and completing the last two years of high school in six months of night school, she headed north, "totally green" but excited about beginning her new life.
In 1973, she saw the Open World Championship Sled Dog Race in Anchorage.
"In that moment, I fell in love. Dog mushing was the most exciting and beautiful thing I'd ever seen. A part of me that always felt close to nature began to sing."
Husky rejects -- "a motley gang" -- were
the beginnings of her sled dog team. After testing herself and her dogs in a short, five-mile sprint, and winning, Riddles set her sights on running the 1,049-mile Iditarod. She placed 18th in the 1980 competition and 20th in 1981.
Then came 1985.
"I gripped the driving bow of my dog sled as the announcer counted down the time," she wrote of March 2, when she and her team, led by Dugan and Axle, joined other mushers and teams at Anchorage's Fourth Avenue starting line.
Illustrations and a race map by Alaska artist Shannon Cartwright and a sprinkling of photographs help tell the story of Riddles' race toward the finish in Nome.
A storm that built as she neared Shaktoolik became a full-fledged blizzard that filled the air with blinding snow and made the ultimate decision hard to make.
"I knew how dangerous these storms could be, but I didn't want the other mushers to catch me when I'd worked so hard to get ahead," she wrote.
"But was it worth risking my life?"
After choosing to press on, she told herself, "This is crazy!" But another voice inside her argued back, "This is a race!"
Out on sea ice, temperatures plummeted and she was haunted by the threat of open water and hypothermia.
When trail markers disappeared, she was forced to trust in the persistence of Sister, a dog Riddles described as mean and ugly without an "ounce of quit."
Her finish, three hours ahead of second place winner Duane Halverson, was recorded in photos that appeared on newspapers and magazine covers around the world. In 1997, she was inducted into the Iditarod Hall of Fame, an honor reserved for those whose contributions have distinguished the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Winning the 1985 Iditarod opened the door for other adventures for Riddles and her team. What the future holds, the reader is left to wonder. As does Riddles.
"I wonder where we'll go next. " she writes, in closing.
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