Fireside favorites: The
books of Jim Kjelgaard

    The best way to get kids in a
  classroom excited about learning
  is to "show them a lesson," poet
  Robert Frost once told a favorite
  English teacher of mine.
     That advice, I think, should be
  heeded by authors of fiction for
  children. Nothing turns off young     
  readers like preachy book
  passages.
      Few authors of books for 11-to
  16-year-olds taught better lessons
  about outdoor survival, fishing,
  hunting, trapping, and the art of
  living than did author Jim
  Kjelgaard.
     Young Kjelgaard heroes like
  ranger John Belden (Forest Patrol)
  invariably made right moral
              
  choices under difficult conditions.
  While
identifying with the trials
  and 
dangers faced by these
  heroes,
young readers were
  "shown" 
lessons about the
  need to 
behave ethically
 
outdoors and the importance
  of
making right decisions - even
  if what you did inconvenienced
  you or deprived you of something
  you had 
yearned for.
    Belden, for example, said he
  could not take a ranger job he
  had wanted all his life. At the
  time a sudden opening occurred,
  he had left traps out in the
  wilderness. He could not take the
  job until he had brought in every
  last trap lest a mink or beaver
  suffer needlessly.
     It turns out, of course that
  Belden's concern for animals is
  precisely what the supervisor
  offering him a job was looking for.
  Such unselfishness is rewarded.
  Belden gets the ranger job
  anyway.
     The message demonstrated in
  Kjelgaard's books time and again
  is that heroes don't always have
  to perform heroic acts to act
  heroically - they just have to act
  decently.
     In fact, the most thrillings acts
  of heroism in Kjelgaard's books
  are performed by magnificent
  dogs. Tawny is the heroic
  greyhound in Desert Dog, Buck is
  the unflinching tracker in Lion
  Hound
, and Chiri is a valiant
  staghound-Husky mix who

                       The Outsider

                           

                       Hank Nuwer


 repeatedly saves his master's life

 in Snow Dog and its sequel, Wild
 Trek
. His best-known canine
  heroes are magnificent Irish
  Setter hounds in the novels Big
 Red
, Irish Red, and Outlaw Red.
    Born in 1910, Kjelgaard
  (pronounced Kell-guard) wrote a
  long list of books during his short
  life. At his death in 1959, he had
  written about 20 titles for Holiday
  House, Inc. Today, Bantam
  Skylark Books, in an
  arrangement with Holiday House
  has kept 10 of Kjelgaard's books
  in paperback editions, including
  A Nose for Trouble and Stormy,
  my two Kjelgaard favorites.
     In addition to life lessons,
  Kjelgaard's books are known for
  their hunting, fishing, survival
  and trapping tips. Readers learn
  to make a raft, to navigate a wild
  river, to make rabbit snares and
  primitive weapons in a pinch, and
  to make a fire-stick.
    Kjelgaard, reared in rugged
  Pennsylvania high country, was
  an accomplished angler, hunter
  and trapper, and he also milked
  the wilderness experiences of his
  brother, a forest ranger, for story
  plots.
     After perusing the Internet this
  weekend, I found I'm hardly alone
  in my regard for Kjelgaard. Many
  young readers and several adults
  (including teachers and
  librarians) have posted tributes to
  Kjelgaard on various Web sites.
     A few weeks again, the Anderson
  Public Library discarded many of
  its Kjelgaard titles. For $1 a bag, I
  added five well-thumbed books to
  my growing collection. But even
  as I bagged these treasures, I kept
  wishing they'd been left on the
  shelves for future youngsters to
  discover.

        Hank Nuwer, a freelance writer,
        covers outdoor sports for The Star
        Press.

Use by permission of Hank Nuwer
Article appeared in The Star Press (Muncie, Indiana) Monday, December 28, 1997 - page 5C

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