Thursday, February 19, 2009

Forgotten Book Friday: Kalak of the Ice

Growing up, I read everything I could get my hands on by Jim Kjelgaard (pronounced Kyell’-gard). I’ve already reviewed his Desert Dog here, which is my favorite of his works. Some other very good books by him were Snow Dog, which reminded me of Call of the Wild, and Big Red and Irish Red.

Although Kjelgaard wrote mostly about dogs, he did write a cat book, Swamp Cat, and he wrote one about a polar bear. The latter was called Kalak of the Ice and is my topic for today. I read “Kalak” way back yonder and have always remembered it very fondly, but it is one of the hardest of Kjelgaard’s books to find. I finally got a copy off a used book site and just reread it this week.

Did it hold up? Not quite… I found the ending a little weaker than I remembered. But I also found myself once more compelled to turn page after page of Kalak’s story. And I’d probably still have to rate it my second favorite among Kjelgaard’s books.

Kalak, whose name is, I believe, from an Inuit word meaning something like “Bear of the Mist,” is a female polar bear. Through bad luck and human agency, she has lost her last few sets of cubs, and much of the book relates her attempts to protect and teach her new set of three cubs. There is substantial anthropomorphizing of the bears throughout, of course, or we wouldn’t have a book. But Kalak and her cubs are in no way just humans with fur. There really is a sense of bearness about them. At least to me.

Kalak of the Ice also features an Inuit tribe, and I enjoyed getting to know some things about the Inuit as a people. Kjelgaard is able to show the conflict that happens between the bears and the Inuit without making either side out to be the villain.

All in all, this is a great Y/A book. I wish I’d had a copy when Josh was little so I could have gotten him to read it. Well, maybe it’s not too late.

Forgotten Books Friday is the Encephalo kinder of Patricia Abbott.
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29 comments:

Cloudia said...

Sounds like a well crafted read, Charles. Aloha-

David Cranmer said...

Reading his bio, I see he was quite prolific considering he died at 48, and to top that off, he had nearly a dozen books published afterwards. You've piqued my interest in Jim Kjelgaard.

Scott said...

Charles,

I've often considered writing a novel or story with an animal as main character. This Kalak sounds interesting.

Greg Schwartz said...

sounds like a good book. I read "Big Red" as a kid (and maybe "Irish Red" too... can't remember) and really liked it.

Randy Johnson said...

This sounds interesting!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Sounds like the kind of book I could never persuade my kids to read. Maybe it takes an adult to appreciate it.

Charles Gramlich said...

Cloudia, Kjelgaard knew how to write exciting books for sure.

David Cranmer, I think I have at least 20 books by him and maybe more. It was a shame he died so young.

Scott, I've started a story with foxes in it but have yet to finish it. One of these days.

Greg Schwartz, Big Red was probably his biggest seller, and then Irish Red was about Big Red's son, I think. Been awhile.

Randy Johnson, I've still got a couple of his books that I haven't read yet. One is called Stormy and is another dog book.

pattinase (abbott), kids don't know what's good for them. ;)

George said...

Jim Kjelgaard's books were plentiful in my school's Library. I read every one I could get my hands on. Kjelgaard knew how to tell a story.

BernardL said...

I could see a very young reader getting into this; but just as you pointed out with Doc Savage, without the hint of romance, the bear story would I believe fall flat with older kids.

Lana Gramlich said...

Sounds too c-c-cold! <:( Glad you liked it, though.

Charles Gramlich said...

George, he certainly did.

Bernardl, there's definitely no romance, although Kalak has a mate that ends up dying to defend her. It's certainly what is typically called a boy book.

Lana, I like you too, even better.

Steve Malley said...

Encephalo Kinder?!

I prefer Cephelogeny...

:-)

laughingwolf said...

can't recall reading anything by him, but will try to find some in the used bookstore close by...

BIBI said...

Wow! Sounds like a good read! I'll check it out at Barnes & Noble if I can't find it reasonable enough at Amazon.com
Thanks for sharing. I love books!

L.A. Mitchell said...

I can only imagine how hard it would be to write from an animal POV. I think I'd just toss up my hands and tell myself, "London did it far better than you. He can have it."

Jack said...

I remember seeing his name some years ago, but I didn't pick up the book. I like hearing about writers like this that I might not have picked up at first glance. There is so much out there to read. So many different things.

Charles Gramlich said...

Steve Malley, any way you can say Brain Child.

laughingwolf, I see quite a few of his books still around.

BIBI, definitely a young adult type of book but I really enjoyed it.

L.A. Mitchell, I've got this strange urge to try and write in just about all genres and ways of writing so I definitely want to give it a try. Though it's not easy.

Jack, you're right about there being so much to read. I'm glad, though. means I'll never run out.

Cavan said...

I remember this book! I'd totally forgotten about it, too, but I remember reading it in elementary school.

Middle Ditch said...

Sounds just the kind of read I liked as a kid. Love animal stories. Apart from Kazan the wolfhound and another story about a bear and a dog I haven't read any. I have to keep a lookout for it. Great find Charles and your son might really like it.

laughingwolf said...

that may be, but i'm in the boonies up here :(

Charles Gramlich said...

Cavan, thanks for visiting and commenting. I'm thinking we must have had this book in our local library way back then.

Middle ditch, I've long enjoyed many animal stories. I used to have them in a separate category in my book cases even.

Laughingwolf, I'm out a bit that way myself but I don't mind.

ivan said...

Don't know about Jim Kjelgaard, but I've never fogotten Jack London's Call of the Wild.

Erik Donald France said...

There's a certain brilliance in being able to show two or more sides of a conflict without judging or taking sides. Like The Illiad.

writtenwyrdd said...

I loved Big Red and Irish Red but never saw Kalak of the Ice.

I think my favorite animal book from childhood was Vulpis The Red Fox. About a red fox, of course.

And Crazy Kill Range, about a mustang.

Mary Witzl said...

I seem to remember Big Red and Irish Red from my childhood too. I was a big fan of animal books, though: I loved Savage Sam and Old Yeller, and anything with a cat as protagonist took my heart entirely.

What a great idea -- reviewing forgotten books. There are so many out there that should not be forgotten.

Charles Gramlich said...

ivan, "The Call of the Wild" may be the prototypical animal story. I loved it, and "White Fang."

Erik Donald France, yes, it's definitely an art form. I was surprised at how well Kjelgaard carried it off with the bears and the innuit.

writtenwyrdd, Kalak is definitely rare. I never read about Vulpus or Crazy Kill Range. Gotta look that one up. I loved Walter Farley's Black Stallion books, though

Mary Witzl, Old Yeller was a tremendous book. And there was Black Gold, about a Race Horse, and Little Vic, about another race horse. Loved 'em.

Barbara Martin said...

This brought back memories. I had read "Big Red", "Fawn In The Forest", "Outlaw Red, Son of Big Red" and "Two Dogs and A Horse". All great books from a child's perspective.

Charles Gramlich said...

Barbara Martin, Outlaw Red. Yes, I remember that one too.

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