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Blast Off! Library offers 'A Universe of Stories' this summer
Karen Land w dogs
Karen Land and her sled dog Noggin, left, visit with children Friday afternoon at the library. To her right is Land’s dog Chloe, who is not a sled dog but enjoyed the program. - photo by Susan Thacker

The Great Bend Public Library’s Summer Reading Program, “A Universe of Stories,” kicked off Friday with space programs and a visit from Iditarod dogsled racer Karen Land and her dog, Noggin, an Alaskan Husky.

Families enjoyed snacks and space-themed activities.

Robert Lee Lounsbuary III and Caleb Gimar from the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson brought space videos and artifacts as they talked about life on a space station. Children learned how astronauts eat, exercise and wash their hair in micro-gravity.

Land talked about the 1,000-mile Iditarod race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. Children and adults alike wanted to pet Noggin and Chloe, a pet dog who is too small for racing. Land said people are often surprised that sled dogs aren’t heavier, fattier and furrier. The dogs typically weigh 40-60 pounds and are lean.

“These dogs are marathon runners,” Land said. They don’t need a thick coat of fur either, because they are more likely to overheat than to feel cold. In subzero temperatures they may wear protective clothing, especially on their feet, which can be cut by ice.

Land said she has been speaking at schools and libraries for 19 years and found many elementary students learn about the Iditarod dogsled race, which was started in 1973 in response to snowmobiles taking the place of dogsled teams. Before snowmobiles, dogsleds were often used for transportation.

Many children in the audience already knew the story of Balto, who was the lead dog when a sled arrived in Nome with a shipment of life-saving serum in blizzard conditions after dozens of children became sick with diphtheria in 1925. Several books and movies pay tribute to Balto and a statue of the dog can be found in Central Park in New York City. A book that talks about some of the other dogs in that team is “The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic,” by Gay Salisbury and Laney Salisbury. Another book on the subject is “Togo,” by Robert J. Blake.

Land decided to become a musher after reading “Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod,” by Gary Paulsen.

She noted that in recent years the Iditarod has been affected by warm weather. “We run on frozen rivers and across lakes,” but now “it’s almost too warm to be a dog musher,” she said. “This was a record year for open water in Norton Sound.” To counter problems with a lack of snow and warmer weather, the Iditarod has moved its start from Anchorage to Fairbanks, 350 miles north, twice in the last five years.