JIM KJELGAARD 1910-1959



 
 
Jim Kjelgaard, Trapper-Writer 
Milwaukee Author of Notable Books for 
Boys Says Youngsters Deserve the Best 
 
   Blond, blue eyed, Jim Kjelgaard, 
a husky looking, plain speaking 
fellow who likes tall pines and wil- 
derness waters, is a little despondent 
these days.  He's just had a opera- 
tion and will miss the deer season. 

   But his enforced stay indoors, at 
his home at 4273 N. 24th pl. hasn't 
slowed his literary output much. 
With two conspicuous triumphs as 
a writer of boys' books to his credit, 
he has just completed a new book 
and is working on another.  His new 
books, like his other four, will have 
the flavor of outdoor adventure. 

    Jim Kjelgaard has been hunting 
and fishing almost as long as he 
can remember and he has been writ- 
ing since he was 19.  He wrote short 
fiction and outdoor articles, chiefly 
for the adult magazine trade, until 
seven years ago. 

   It was then that Vernon Ives, edi- 
tor of Holiday House, observed that 
Kjelgaard's magazine pieces had a 
robust, adventurous quality that 
could be turned to sure profit in 
books for boys.  He wrote to ask 
Kjelgaard whether he'd consider do- 
ing a boys' book.  Kjelgaard said 
yes--he'd like to write a book about 
forest rangers (his brother had been 
a ranger in Pennsylvania's Black 
forest).  The publisher told him to 
go ahead, and "Forest Patrol," the 
first Kjelgaard book, appeared in 
1941 and sold 10,000 copies--a very 
creditable showing for a first novel 
of any variety. 

   Since then, Kjelgaard books have 
been appearing at intervals of about 
a year and  a half and their author 
hasn't been writing as much for 
magazines as he once did.  Kjel- 
gaard lost money on his second 
book, "Rebel Siege"; he worked 
eight months on it and realized only 
about $400 in royalties.  But his third 
book, "Big Red." sold briskly and 
won the principal medal in the 1947 
junior book awards of the Boys 
Clubs of America.  It is about an 
Irish setter, and Kjelgaard has just 
sold the movie rights to it.  Kjel- 
gaard's fourth and most recent 
book, "Buckskin Brigade," is a fall 
selection of the Junior Literary 
guild. 

   Kjelgaard's books, some of which 
have historical themes, are highly 
regarded by librarians and teachers, 
as well as by a good many thousand 
boys.  The 36 year old, pipe smoking 
author takes his responsibility as a 
mentor to youth pretty seriously. 

   "Writing boys' stories," he says, 
"is hard work.  You can't write down 
to kids.  The stories of Peter Rab- 
bit who went hop-hop-hop have been 
passe for a long time, and it's a good 
thing.  Kids will spot weaknesses in 
a juvenile book that would get by 
in a book for adults.  You actually 
have to struggle to get up to the 
kids' level." 
 

   Though Kjelgaard is a thoughtful, 
painstaking worker and his books 
have been praised as educational as 
well as entertaining, he is short on 
formal schooling.  The son of a doc- 
tor, he was born in New York City, 
but his family moved to the Penn- 
sylvania mountains when he was 2. 

   Dr. Kjelgaard had a farm near 
Galeton, and Jim went to a country 
school and shot his first deer at 8, 
a feat not without parallel in those 
parts.  Later he went to school in 
town, and for two years he took 
Syracuse university extension 
courses while he worked in a fac- 
tory at Endicott, N. Y.  He had 
courses in English there, as well as 
in other subjects, but he says he 
doesn't remember that they did him 
much good.  He had already sold 
his first story (for $5) to an out- 
door magazine and was writing as- 
siduously in his spare time. 

   The young man from the moun- 
tains soon discovered that he didn't 
like city life.  He gave up his fac- 
tory job and trapped for several 
years in Pennsylvania and the Adri- 
rondacks. 

   He didn't neglect his writing, how- 
ever.  One day he received a note 
from someone named Eddie Dressen 
who had read one of his stories in 
a magazine and liked it.  Eddie, a 
member of a group interested in 
writing, lived in Milwaukee.  Kjel- 
gaard sent a cordial reply, and a 
correspondence developed.  In the 
course of it, he learned that his cor- 
respondent was a girl and that "Ed- 
die" was a diminutive for "Edna." 

   Kjelgaard moved around a good 
deal in those days, and in 1939 he 
came to Milwaukee to meet Edna in 
person.  They were married short- 
ly afterward, and now have a daugh- 
ter, Karen, 7.  During the war, 
Kjelgaard worked in two Milwau- 
kee defense plants, but for the last 
few years he has been writing full 
time.  His brother John, the for- 
mer forest ranger, has come to Mil- 
waukee, too; he recently bought an 
acreage on the Wolf river in Lang- 
lade county and plans to farm and 
trap there. 

   The newest of Kjelgaard's com- 
pleted books bears the tentative title 
"Snow Dog."  It is about a Cana- 
dian huskie and is scheduled for 
publication next year.  His work in 
progress is a hunting handbook for 
boys.  He hopes he won't have to go 
to Hollywood when "Big Red" is 
filmed; he'd rather have the scenes 
shot in northern Wisconsin, where 
he knows the fishing is good. 

   If Jim Kjelgaard hasn't yet grown 
rich in Wisconsin, he has at least 
found it congenial. 
                           LESLIE CROSS. 

 
From The Milwaukee Journal, November 16, 1947
"Copyright 1998 Journal Sentinel Inc., reproduced with permission."
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Background graphic from dust jacket of Forest Patrol - 1941, permission to
display granted by Holiday House, Inc.

Last Updated January 15, 1999