Iditarod Heroines

Did you read any books in your childhood that you found especially inspirational? For me, one of those books was “Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade.” I read it when I was 12 years old. It was an adult fiction book, but an easy read. It was life-changing. It opened my eyes to a potential “grand” life beyond my existence in a small town in North Dakota. It shared a world of colorful characters, drama, and adventure.Female heroines like Auntie Mame always captured my imagination. She was eccentric and courageous and she defied the conventions of her times. 

Great books and great role models can encourage girls to pursue their highest potential and be true to themselves and their dreams.

As a Minnesota author, I am always looking for great books by other Minnesota authors that feature strong women. The Minnesota-authored children’s novel “Gilly & the Snowcats” features my kind of heroine — a fictional, unconventional 12-year-old girl named Gilly — and the Iditarod dogsled race.

Gilly lives in Anchorage, Alaska. Her veterinarian mom attended St. Olaf College in Northfield. 

Gilly wants to race in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, however, she likes cats. Her goal is to enter the first cat-sled team in the history of the Iditarod. 

The Iditarod, first started in 1973, is considered one of the toughest endurance competitions. Today, women make up nearly a third of the entries in the 1,000-mile race. Top ten finishes are often an even split between women and men.

Minnesotan Libby Riddles was the first female winner of the Iditarod, in 1985. She moved to Alaska just before her 17th birthday, and fell in love with mushing. The second woman to win was the late Susan Butcher, who won in 1986, and then for three years in a row, starting in 1988. 

Intrepid women mushers who race in the Iditarod are exactly the kind of role models I want girls to know about.

Recommended Books

Gilly & the Snowcats by RS Bovard Illustrations by Elisabeth Alba  Age Range: 8 – 12 years

“Race Across Alaska: First Woman to Win the Iditarod Tells Her Story” by Libby Riddles   Adult nonfiction

“Fast into the Night: A Woman, Her Dogs, and Their Journey North on the Iditarod Trail” by Debbie Clarke Moderow  Adult nonfiction

“Storm Run: The Story of the First Woman to Win the Iditarod Sled Dog Race” by Libby Riddles  Age Range: 3 – 7 years

 “Iditarod Dreams: A Year in the Life of Alaskan Sled Dog Racer DeeDee Jonrowe” by Lew Freedman & DeeDee Jonrow

Joan Holman is an author, ghostwriter, book  coach, and producer ( She is the producer of the PBS television program “The Legacy of Achievement.” She is featured in “Dear Success Seeker: Wisdom from Outstanding Women,” by Michele Wright, which is a collection of inspirational letters to future generations. It includes letters by Rosa Parks, Gayle King, Della Reese, Shirley Jones, and Sesame Street Founder Joan Ganz Cooney.