• New book: ‘Phantom Poodle of Rainy Pass’
by Naomi Klouda
For nearly 20 years Dan and Nancy Levinson relished their front row seats to the Iditarod Trail Dog Race finish in Nome, but one sight especially captured Dan’s imagination.
It was the day a team of poodles pulled the sled and musher John Suter into town.
The Levinsons housed the mushers, fed them and got them rested at the end of the 1,000 mile trail. They hosted the Suters and those poodles a few years in a row.
“A lot of mushers had mixed feelings about the poodles. Dan got the idea he wanted to write a story. He wanted it to be a children’s story, but as a high school science teacher, he hadn’t much experience with younger kids,” his widow recalls. “He wrote the manuscript but didn’t finish it.”
The Levinsons moved to Homer in 1990. Just before Dan died in October 2003, he gave the manuscript to Suter. It sat 10 years amongst Suter’s things, then in May, the former dog musher pulled it out.
It was time to finish the project. “He called me in May and said he didn’t know what to do, but he knew people who would publish it.”
The book, “Phantom Poodle of Rainy Pass” by Dan Levinson made its appearance last week, illustrated by Ginger Nielson, a well-known illustrator who lives in New Hampshire.
It’s the story of two young girls on an outing in Rainy Pass after the Iditarod race is over. They find a black poodle wandering lost and hungry, and bring it home. The dog’s owner is located and in relief he gets back to Nome to claim his lost dog.
The musher of poodles gets more than few puzzled questions. One of the girls, Rose, looks at the dog and asks, “We thought poodles were little sissy dogs. Can these big ones really pull sleds?”
“Well,” said the Poodleman smiling. “They may not go as long and strong as the best huskies, but they helped me go over a thousand miles to Nome. Their ancestors were working dogs, not cream puffs on paws.”
The story would appeal to all ages, but is likely targeted for 4-6 graders. Dan Levinson, 1935-2003, was a high school science teacher in Nome. He retired to Homer, “an entirely different place,” said Nancy, in 1990. This is the only story he ever wrote down though he enjoyed making up stories and telling of his adventures. It’s his wife who is the writer, a poet and currently completing a memoir. In Nome, she wrote a text book for her husband’s biology class. But this summer she spent editing and advising on the publication of the Phantom Poodle.
“It went relatively quickly – from the time John contacted me in May. By the end of August, the book arrived in the mail.”
The illustrator, Ginger Nielson, may have inadvertently encouraged the project she couldn’t yet have known about; she was given a story about flying poodles to illustrate. The author found John Suter and wanted to hear his story. He and his poodles completed the Iditarod four times and competed in 280 races over a-19-year period.
“They were wondering if this is so preposterous, the idea of flying poodles pulling Santa’s sleigh, and in the process heard his story. They figured maybe it’s not,” Levinson said.
Even though the children’s book is making an appearance many years after it showed up in Dan Levinson’s imagination, his widow sees it as a great time, this tenth year after his death.
“I think it is something the children will really enjoy,” she said.
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