Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Impossible Rescue by Martin W. Sandler

The Impossible Rescue: the True Story of an Amazing Arctic Adventure.
By Martin W. Sandler
Candlewick Press. 2012
ISBN: 9780763650803
Grades 7 and up
A copy of this book was checked out from the public library.

It all began during the final month of the whaling season in 1897. The captains of eight whaleships from San Francisco were fishing in the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Alaska. They believed they had a few more weeks of fair weather to continue whaling before heading south. Yet, suddenly, without warning during the first week of September, the temperatures plunged dramatically and soon, heavy ice was sweating in from far out to sea. The ships were forced to lay anchor to wait for favorable winds to drive the ice away. But when the warmer winds came, the ice didn’t melt, and the ships were trapped.

Looking out at the ice, Captain Tilton and the crew of one of the ships, the Alexander, thought it seemed to stretch on forever. Feeling alarmed, Tilton and his men understood the dangers of spending the winter trapped in the ice. It meant surviving months of almost twenty-four-hour-a-day darkness and temperatures that plummeted to as far as sixty degrees below zero. Not to mention running out of supplies and the possibility of having the ship torn apart by fast-moving ice.

Martin W. Sandler has written a nail-bitting account of this incredible — nay, impossible – rescue mission undertaken during the dead of winter, which was nothing short of suicide. It would take bravery, detailed planning, commitment, and most importantly, luck, before the sailors, some 265 men would arrive back safely in Seattle.

The rescue mission took ten months and was carried out by the Revenue Cutter Service, the forerunner of The United States Coast Guard. The plan was to take the Bear, the Revenue Cutter Service ship, as far north as the icy conditions would allow. When Bear got as far as possible, three officers would be put ashore. It would be their task to proceed overland to where the whaleman were trapped. The three men, First Lieutenant David Jarvis, Dr. Samuel Call, and Second Lieutenant Ellsworth Bertholf would travel more than 1,500 miles using dog sleds, to get as far north as possible in time to save the men. They had to arrive before March, because that is when the sailors would run out of supplies. What was truly remarkable about this whole mission was that there was no loss of life.

Told in chronological order, the thirteen chapters put readers inside "mission control." From the audacious plan through a hazardous crossing, to contact with the sailors, we are with the rescue team every step of the way. The book is lavishly illustrated with historic maps and black & white photos, all of which are well captioned. Sandler -- drawing on diaries, letters, reports, journals, and in some cases, detailed reminiscences of key participants -- weaves throughout the story the actual words of those who were there. In addition, Dr. Samuel Call took many of the photographs!

The book is well documented with a bibliography, a timeline, photography credits, and index. And, not to leave readers wondering, Sanders includes under “What Happened to Them,” a short summary of what happened to the key players after the rescue was over.

 The Impossible Rescue is a fascinating and absorbing read. Put this in a display with other books on survival, explorers, orienteering, and wilderness survival.

Reviewed by Louise


  1. This arrived in my mailbox today. After reading this review I'm really anxious to start.

  2. I'm sure you will love it! Thanks for your comment.