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Children’s book describes epic sled-dog race

Alaskan artist Klara Maisch did the artwork for Dan O’Neill’s “Stubborn Gal,” published by the University of Alaska Press Fairbanks.
Alaskan artist Klara Maisch did the artwork for Dan O’Neill’s “Stubborn Gal,” published by the University of Alaska Press Fairbanks. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

A lack of tough literary heroines for the youngest readers prompted a Bellingham writer’s book, “Stubborn Gal,” the true story of a young woman who competed in her first Alaskan sled dog race — a grueling 60-mile run — and won.

Dan O’Neill, a historian who splits his time between Bellingham and Alaska, said winners of the Caldecott Medal for picture books dating to 1938 have few with girl characters who display tenacity, perseverance and courage — qualities he wanted to convey in his tale.

It’s an awesome thing she did, trying to handle a 10-dog team, where each dog weighs 60 pounds. That’s enormous power. It’s scary.

Dan O’Neill, writer

“I don’t see enough books to inspire this kind of attitude for girls,” he said. “That, and the fact that I have three granddaughters.”

O’Neill, who watched the race described in the book, will discuss “Stubborn Gal” at 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, at Village Books, 1200 11th St. He will show photos from Alaska and describe the race in the book, and answer readers’ questions.

“Pretty much every word is true, right down to the time of moonrise — you can check those things now — how much it snowed,” he said. “I was at the race, so I saw it; I remember what people said and how it looked.”

“Stubborn Gal” is ONeill’s first book for children. He has previously written nonfiction for adults. He also has worked in construction, and hunted, fished, trapped and mushed sled dogs in Alaska. The book’s illustrations are by Alaskan artist Klara Maisch.

In “Stubborn Gal,” the story of the sled-dog race is told by a grandfather to his young granddaughter as they work in the garden on a summer’s day. But it’s not just for girls.

“In this book, I have fangs slashing and thrills, and there’s the drama of the race. I think boys will love it, too,” O’Neill said.

“I so admired this gal’s courage,” he said. “It’s an awesome thing she did, trying to handle a 10-dog team, where each dog weighs 60 pounds. That’s enormous power. It’s scary.”

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