Williamsburg Hill

Williamsburg Hill

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Where the Red Fern Grows

If I could recommend one children's book that all adults should read, it would be Wilson Rawls' Where the Red Fern Grows.  Set in the Ozarks, the wonderful story was introduced to me in elementary school by a teacher, Miss Wilder (I never knew her first name), and the personalities of Old Dan and Little Ann still warm my heart.

Originally published in 1961, the tale is one of simpler times but the life lessons are relevant today.  Or they should be.   Some people could learn a great deal from the fictional character, Billy Coleman.  At age ten, Billy teaches us that working hard and saving his money for something he wants, but doesn't need, is worth the wait.  When he finally makes his big purchase, the "package" he's been working nearly two years for makes its arrival in the form of a couple of squirming Redbone Coonhound dogs.

Calling the hounds Old Dan and Little Ann, Billy and his dogs become inseparable.  He cares for them and trains them, watching in wonder as the dogs' instincts prove them superior in doing what they were born to do...hunt.  This causes conflict with the competition.

While the story is heartwarming, the strength of character shown by such a young boy stays with the reader.  Loyalty, compassion, responsibility and love are reflected through Billy's actions with his dogs and family.  You root for Billy and his hounds. 

While I won't give away the ending, you will need that tissue box.  However, the author softens the tragedy by introducing us to the Native American legend of the sacred red fern.  It provides acceptance, closure and allows us and Billy to move on.

Where the Red Fern Grows is over two hundred pages in paperback.  Amazon indicates the book is for ages eight and up, but I might classify it as being for middle grade kids.  If you wish your younger child to read it, I would suggest parents read the story first for content, or better yet, read the story to your children.  I shared it with my daughters when they were younger.  If you don't have children, it's still a good story.  Good children's books aren't just for children.

By the way, a movie was made from the story many years ago.  My advice?  Skip it and pick up the book instead.  You will feel and see Billy and his dogs through Wilson Rawls' words.  Those visuals and emotions are lost in the movie's translation.