Chip, the Dam Builder
by Jim Kjelgaard

illustrated by Ralph Ray

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Holiday House: New York, 1950
233 pages

June 2020


This is the novel that taught me about beavers: how and why beaver dams are built across streams; the safe refuge of beaver lodges; and generally their lives and activities. Chip, the Dam Builder is one of Jim Kjelgaard's fine animal stories for young people, and judging by the multiple printings, has been thoroughly enjoyed by many others besides myself.

A beaver dam built of sticks and mud across a stream slows the flow of water, causing a pond to back up behind the dam, creating a habitat that allows many species to thrive: beaver of course, muskrat, trout and other fish, all live in or near the pond that provides safety and life. Deer come to drink; migratory birds alight; predators such as lynx, otter, and bear come to drink and hunt. Kjelgaard personifies these, not as animal-shaped people, but as realistic creatures with intelligence, instinct, fears and desires, and indeed individual personalities according to their kind.

Chip, the senior beaver, with Sleek, his mate, other grown beavers and kits, live here. Along with visitors such as Glare, the lynx, Ripple, the otter, and a variety of others, all come to vivid life as inhabitants of the forest stream and its beaver-built ponds. All are nicely drawn by Ralph Ray.

The story begins as Chip's home dam is dynamited by men hunting beaver for their valuable pelts. He escapes, seeking a new stream where he can begin again. We go through a whole year's cycle, watching how the beaver's engineering and thrift create an environment that keeps them safe and well fed even in winter when the pond freezes solid. Alertness and safety are critical, as there are dangers a-plenty, as in any truly wild situtation, and the action is gripping and suspenseful. Chip, the Dam Builder is a fine novel, fascinating and memorable.


Ecology is a vital topic, which all too often, seems to be preached tiresomely to the uninterested. Better by far to catch juvenile imaginations with vivid scenarios in miniature of how our biosphere really works. After reading a few such stories as realistic and evocative as this one, a pattern is grasped that may stand the readers in good stead the rest of their lives.

One particular copy of Chip, the Dam Builder, in front of me now, is from the novel's sixth printing. This copy was discarded from two different school libraries.


© 2020 Robert Wilfred Franson

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