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.