On December 10, 1910, James Arthur Kjelgaard was born in New York City, the oldest of six children to a doctor and his wife. Raised in the country on farms, Kjelgaard loved nature, the outdoors, and animals. He attended school and still read everything he could, even the Scottish poet Robert Burns. Though energetic and active, Kjelgaard nevertheless suffered from what his brother Henry called "fits," episodes similar to epileptic seizures. These fits were diagnosed as a brain tumor. Doctors from John Hopkins Hospital drilled a hole in his head to relieve the pressure, and this procedure worked, allowing Kjelgaard the opportunity to continue living for a long while.
Kjelgaard's outdoors activities included fishing and hunting, while inside he wrote when he could. Building his own desk from a box, he typed out stories on an old typewriter. Rejection after rejection, magazines wouldn't accept anything he wrote until one day during his senior year in high school, Kjelgaard finally received an acceptance letter that rewarded him subscription to its magazine in lieu of payment. When Kjelgaard saw his story on the magazine cover the next month, he was thrilled. His success came during the Depression; however, he needed steady employment to help support his family. From working on a potato farm, to digging ditches, to guiding hunters, Kjelgaard did what he could to earn a living. Then came a job as a forest ranger. His experiences set the stage for his first book Forest Patrol. As more magazines accepted his stories, Kjelgaard was on his way to a writing career.
After marrying a lady from Milwaukee and moving there, Kjelgaard entered the World War II era. With his health issues, he couldn't enlist, so he worked in a torpedo plant during the day and wrote at night. After the war he became a full-time author, taking trips that led him all over America, from the Arctic Circle to Mexico City. Kjelgaard searched for an intriguing story. His love of dogs consistently provided a source of ideas, and his book Big Red made him famous. Later Disney adapted it into a motion picture with the same name. Continuing to write, Kjelgaard penned more books about nature and dogs, including Snow Dog and Stormy. Deeply interested in preserving forests and wildlife, his books portray this love of nature.
Later, with the onset of severe arthritis and another brain tumor, Kjelgaard felt life slipping away. Seldom leaving his home during his final year, he wrote eight books for children before taking his life to escape the chronic excruciating pain racking his head and body. In total, award-winning author Kjelgaard penned over forty books and hundreds of short stories. On July 12, 1959, he passed away at his home in Phoenix, Arizona, at age forty-eight.
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