February 1, 2021

Black Bear Goes to Washington and Run Like a Sled Dog by Denise Lawson

There are two famous sled dog races that take place in Alaska each year, the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod.  The Iditarod is held each year on the first Saturday in March.  Teams of sled dogs and mushers gather in Anchorage, Alaska this and make the 1,000-mile trek to Nome, Alaska.  The Iditarod is a challenging race that takes 8 to 15 days to complete.   The Yukon Quest which is also 1,000 miles is considered to be even more challenging than the Iditarod because it takes place earlier in the year when it's colder and darker.  It runs between Fairbanks, Alaska and Whitehorse, Yukon (Canada), and takes 9 to 24 days to complete.  The race is unique in that it takes place in two countries. Each year the direction of the race alternates so Fairbanks and Whitehorse take turns being the start and
finish line. The Yukon Quest is so challenging... it is considered to be the toughest sled dog race in the world!

Author Denise Lawson recently adopted a retired sled dog named Black Bear.  Black Bear was born in Eagle, Alaska and was a lead dog in the 2009 Yukon Quest.  She also led dog teams on remote wilderness expeditions for many years.  How cool is that?  When Black Bear was ready to retire and needed a forever home, Denise Lawson and her family welcomed her into theirs.  Denise Lawson loves Black Bear so much, she wrote an entire series of children's books about her.  The first book in the series is Black Bear Goes to Washington and the most recent book is Run Like a Sled Dog.  Keep reading to learn more about these two books, how you can use them in the classroom, and more about Black Bear herself!

Black Bear Goes to Washington and Run Like a Sled Dog by Denise Lawson are two children's books inspired by the author's dog... a retired sled dog.

Black Bear Goes to Washington Summary

Black Bear Goes to Washington is based on the real adventures of Black Bear, a sled dog who spent 11 years in a remote part of Alaska along the Yukon River. Learn about this endearing sled dog's life in the Alaskan bush and her journey of discovery after she arrives in Washington. Through a unique style of illustration, readers are immersed in the world of Black Bear as she adjusts to her new world. The book inspires teamwork and cooperation and introduces young minds to the concept of adapting to change and new experiences. Through the voice of Black Bear, the story conveys the essence of sled dog life in Alaska and lightheartedly suggests that we could all learn a little something from some old sled dogs.  Black Bear Goes to Washington is the first in a series. At the end of this story, Black Bear is wearing her life vest ready to embark on her next adventure.

🍎 Title: Black Bear Goes to Washington
🍎 Author: Denise Lawson
🍎 Illustrator: Denise Lawson
🍎 Publisher: Brown & Lowe Books
🍎 Date: October 12, 2019
🍎 Pages: 30

Black Bear Goes to Washington and Run Like a Sled Dog by Denise Lawson are two children's books inspired by the author's dog... a retired sled dog.

Run Like a Sled Dog Summary

The latest book in the Black Bear Sled Dog series makes a great gift for young readers. In Run Like a Sled Dog, Black Bear is the only sled dog around, but she needs a little help with a big sled dog job. Black Bear meets some unexpected friends in this light-hearted rhyming tale. Who will fit into Black Bear's harness and pull alongside her? "Hoot, the alpaca, looks very strong, but the harness won't fit him. His neck is too long." Young audiences will enjoy the upbeat surprise ending that reminds us all to follow our dreams.

🍎 Title: Run Like a Sled Dog
🍎 Author: Denise Lawson
🍎 Illustrator: Denise Lawson
🍎 Publisher: Brown & Lowe Books
🍎 Date: November 17, 2020
🍎 Pages: 32

Black Bear Goes to Washington and Run Like a Sled Dog by Denise Lawson are two children's books inspired by the author's dog... a retired sled dog.

Background Knowledge

Black Bear Goes to Washington and Run Like a Sled Dog are part of a series about Black Bear, a retired sled dog who found her forever home with Denise Lawson and her family.  Some of your students may be familiar with sled dogs because they've watched movies like 'The Great Alaskan Race' (2019) or 'TOGO' (2020), but others may not know what they are.  Before you read Black Bear Goes to Washington and Run Like a Sled Dog with your students, you may need to have a quick conversation about what dog sledding is, how it got started as a necessary form of transportation, how sled dogs are different from dogs that are kept as traditional house pets, etc.  

This video featuring Denise Lawson provides a terrific introduction to dog sledding and sled dog adoptions.  We also get to meet Black Bear, the inspiration for these books!


I had a chance to chat with Denise Lawson about sled dogs and how intelligent they are.  She told me:

Sled dogs are highly trained working dogs. They start their training from puppyhood. Mushers select puppies for different roles on the dog team by observing their natural tendencies as puppies. The puppy that is eager to explore and shows a lot of initiative might be a good lead dog. The mushers invest a lot of time in building a relationship with the dogs. They are able to follow commands even in challenging situations with a lot of different stimuli. The lead dogs help the musher lookout for obstacles that the musher might not be able to see.


Language Arts

Black Bear Goes to Washington and Run Like a Sled Dog are fictional stories based on the lives of Denise Lawson and Black Bear.  Both stories are written with the rhythm and rhyme of poetry.


Animal Research Project

After reading or listening to Black Bear Goes to Washington and Run Like a Sled Dog, it's quite possible your students will become fascinated with sled dogs and want to learn more about them. If so, this would be a good time to introduce reading for information and mini-research projects. 

Students as young as first and second grade start learning about research and reading for information.  They also start learning about animals and adaptations during science.  The mini-research project below can be used while reading Black Bear Goes to Washington and Run Like a Sled Dog... pulling facts from literature... or while reading nonfiction books of your choice.  It's an easy project that focuses on the basics of animals and animal adaptations and is best used with students who are new to reading for information and research.  Students already experienced with these skills may find this project too easy for them.

Black Bear Goes to Washington and Run Like a Sled Dog by Denise Lawson are two children's books inspired by the author's dog... a retired sled dog.

To download a FREE copy of this mini-research project (one page in all), please click on the image above. Clicking this image will take you to the Teachers-Pay-Teachers third party website. This is a FREE download-- no purchase necessary.

Fun Facts about Sled Dogs

Not every dog can become a sled dog.

Sled dogs need to have strength, stamina, intelligence, and the ability to tolerate the cold.  Many people assume that all sled dogs are very large, bled dogs can vary a lot in size.

Black Bear Goes to Washington and Run Like a Sled Dog by Denise Lawson are two children's books inspired by the author's dog... a retired sled dog.

There are different 'northern breeds' that can be used as sled dogs.

Samoyeds, Alaskan Malamutes, Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Huskies, Chinooks, Greenland Dogs, Canadian Inuit Dogs, and Northern Inuit Dogs are the most common breeds used in dog sledding.  

Black Bear Goes to Washington and Run Like a Sled Dog by Denise Lawson are two children's books inspired by the author's dog... a retired sled dog.

Sled dogs have adapted to living in the Arctic.

Sled dogs have thick fur to keep them warm.  Their fur has a dense outer layer and a softer inner layer for insulation. Their paws are protected by thick pads, and their fluffy tails allow them to cover their noses while they curl up in a ball and sleep.

Black Bear Goes to Washington and Run Like a Sled Dog by Denise Lawson are two children's books inspired by the author's dog... a retired sled dog.

Sled dogs have huge appetites!

Since sled dogs are so active and can run long distances at high speed, they burn a lot of calories.  Regular dog food and kibble from the pet store aren't enough to keep them strong and healthy.  Sled dogs are fed a special performance kibble with a higher percentage of protein and fat.  Many sled dogs in Alaska also have diets that include diets that include large amounts of salmon.  During long races, sled dogs will eat a carefully selected diet to meet the demands of the physical exertion.

Black Bear Goes to Washington and Run Like a Sled Dog by Denise Lawson are two children's books inspired by the author's dog... a retired sled dog.

Sled dogs have played important roles throughout history.

They were used to carry cargo during the Klondike Goldrush of the 1890s and during The Seven Years War during the 1700s.  Most famously, however, sled dogs helped save an Alaskan town in 1925!  A deadly outbreak of Diptheria broke out in Nome, Alaska.  Several sled dog teams had to travel 675 miles to deliver this serum for the sick people in town.


Map Skills

Black Bear was born and raised in Eagle, Alaska, and ran in many sled races, including the Yukon Quest in 2009.  When Black Bear was retired from racing, she was adopted by Denise Lawson who lives in Virginia.  We know from reading Black Bear Goes to Washington that she visited Washington, DC.  Pull out a map of North America.  Help your students locate Alaska and the small town of Eagle where Black Bear was born.  Can your students find the Yukon in Canada?  Virginia and Washington, DC in the 'lower 48'?  Use the scale on the map to approximate how many miles Black Bear traveled from Eagle, Alaska to Virginia where he lives now.

Black Bear Goes to Washington and Run Like a Sled Dog by Denise Lawson are two children's books inspired by the author's dog... a retired sled dog.

In 2009, Black Bear ran in the Yukon Quest sled dog race.  The race starts in White Horse, Yukon (Canada) and ends in Fairbanks, Alaska (United States).  Take a look at this trail map of the Yukon Quest and compare it to a topographical map of that area.  What type of terrain did Black Bear and the other sled dogs race through?  What rivers did they cross?  What kind of challenges would this terrain pose?  Would this be an easy race?  Could this race be completed in one day?


Black Bear Goes to Washington and Run Like a Sled Dog by Denise Lawson are two children's books inspired by the author's dog... a retired sled dog.

To learn more about Black Bear and his series by Denise Lawson, please visit Black Bear's website.  You can also watch Denise Lawson's in which she talks about Black Bear Goes to Washington:

Black Bear Goes to Washington can be purchased from these retailers:
(affiliate links)

Run Like a Sled Dog can be purchased from these retailers:
(affiliate links)

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