Monday, May 2, 2011

Where the Red Fern Grows (Book)

Author: Wilson Rawls. Release date: 1961. Publisher: Doubleday. ISBN: 978044022814.
Plot summary: In a flashback to his youth, Billy Colman recalls the story of the two coonhounds he had as a young boy living on his family’s remote home in the Ozarks. Young Billy wants nothing more than to own two Red Bone coonhounds to help him catch raccoons in the forest around his family’s home. The Colmans are quite poor, however, and cannot afford the dogs. After seeing an ad in the newspaper that a breeder in Kentucky is offering coonhound puppies for sale at $25 each, Billy decides to save up the money himself to purchase the dogs. He works for two years doing various odd jobs before he finally saves the $50 he needs to purchase the hounds. With his grandfather’s help, he orders the dogs and picks them up in a nearby town. He names one Old Dan and the other Little Ann, and the three soon become inseparable. Billy trains the dogs to hunt raccoons and becomes a successful hunter, earning money for the family. After all of their success, Billy’s grandfather decides to enter the dogs into a raccoon hunting contest. Will Old Dan, Little Ann and Billy be able to win?

Review: Where the Red Fern Grows is a classic novel for young readers that is both utterly heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. Billy’s determination to purchase the coonhounds if very inspiring, especially for tweens who may also come from families that do not have a lot of money. That he is able to save up enough to buy the sought after hounds is the most uplifting part of the story. The relationship Billy develops with Old Dan and Little Ann is also very sweet. He clearly loves the dogs immensely, and they are loving to him as well. While many tweens may not be familiar with raccoon hunting, the importance of the pelts Billy is able to collect to his family’s well-being will definitely resonate with readers. Despite these warm aspects of the story, however, there are several difficult parts as well. The Pritchard boys are mean, challenging Billy to something he does not want to put his dogs through. The eventual death of Rubin may be hard for tweens to swallow. Even more difficult is the absolutely heartbreaking death of the beloved coonhounds. Tears will undoubtedly flow when Billy must say goodbye to his beloved dogs, but the lessons he learned from them and their impact on his family will resonate with readers. Overall, this is a classic tale and a must-read for tweens.

Genre: Fiction/Historical

Reading level: Grades 4-7

Similar titles:  White Fang by Jack London, The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford.

Personal thoughts: I remember very distinctly my teacher reading this book aloud to the class in fourth grade and how she had to pass it to a student to finish because she was crying so hard. This book absolutely tore my heart out, but I still loved it as a tween. As an adult, it was the same result. Billy’s struggle to buy the dogs, the descriptions of his life in the Ozarks, and his relationship with Old Dan and Little Ann are truly delightful. The ending of the story, though incredibly tragic, is still inspiring. I would recommend this title to young readers with the warning that dog lovers might find it particularly upsetting.

Themes: Dogs, raccoon hunting, the Ozarks.

Awards/Reviews: Considered a classic work of children’s literature.

Series Information: N/A

Character information:
Billy Colman – As an adult, he looks back on his childhood experiences and tells the story of his coonhounds. As a child, he works for two years to save the $50 he needs to purchase the dogs he’s always wanted.
Grandfather Colman – Billy’s grandfather who helps and encourages him in his purchasing of the dogs and his hunting.
Old Dan – One of Billy’s dogs, he is brave and strong.
Little Ann – Billy’s other dog, she is very smart.

Annotation: Billy Colman’s family can’t afford to buy him the coonhound puppies he wants to help him hunt in the forest surrounding their home in the Ozarks. Determined to own the dogs, Billy works for two years to save up enough money to make the purchase. Together, Billy and his dogs, Old Dan and Little Ann, experience many adventures and develop a bond that will last a lifetime.

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