Where the Red Fern Grows

Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls

For the Children's Literature Event, I wanted to read Where the Red Fern GrowsEmily of Classics and Beyond reviewed it a little while ago, and I had never read it, so I thought I would.

Billy, who lives way out in the Ozark Mountains, wants nothing more than a hunting dog.  He begs, he pleads, but his family is far too poor to afford any such thing.  Eventually Billy figures out a plan; he works and saves for over two years and orders a couple of redbone hound pups.  He and his dogs are inseparable, and they hunt raccoons every night (the story is set around the 1920s, when raccoon coats were all the rage).  Billy's dogs are such good hunters that he enters them in a contest.

There is a whole lot about dogs and hunting and raccoons.  I am not interested in those things at all, but I hung on, drawn by Billy's intense feelings, his family and Ozark background, his faith in God, and the knowledge that it wasn't that long a book anyway.  Billy's family is great and I really enjoyed them; the portrayal of his parents was probably my favorite thing about the book.

Emily did not like the writing; she felt that although it's a good book, she wouldn't call it a classic because she felt the writing wasn't up to that level.  I'm not sure what I think about that, because while the writing was indeed not terribly poetic or anything, I did think that Rawls had what is called a voice, which conveyed a lot about the particular place and time and culture he was writing about.  I enjoyed that.  It's not my kind of a book, but I can see that many people would love it and consider it a childhood classic and make sure their kids read it too.  So I have no verdict on that question.

It is just as well that I didn't read this as a kid.  I'm not a dog person and I don't think I would have liked it when I was 10, when I mostly read fantasy.  I found out that Wilson Rawls also wrote Summer of the Monkeys, which was read aloud to my 5th grade class, and it's probably a wonderful book, but I hated it simply because I didn't like being read to, so I've never read that either.  I am now a huge proponent of reading aloud to children--I think it's really important--but I had no patience with it myself.  My kids think this is hysterical.


  1. I read this a dozen times when I was little and cried a lot when the dogs died, but I haven't reread it in adulthood. I think it's one of those books that's best to read when you're little -- I'll give it to any kids I might have, but it isn't especially important to me that they love it.

  2. I had to read this in my 7th grade English class--honestly, I probably would never have otherwise, as I was never really into animal books. I don't have particularly strong memories of it, other than I found it very sad. I think that's why I wasn't into animal books, actually--too many of them were sad!

  3. I saw the movie at, I believe, a birthday party (of all things!) when I was about 8. I remember it as very sad and tended to avoid animal stories for the same reason as Amanda. It seemed like all the recommended books were traumatic, animals dying, slavery, sometimes the children themselves dying. I much preferred the Oz books and would have loved Harry Potter had it existed.

  4. Yeah, for a long time it was considered a good thing to have some death or other depressing thing in there. Heck, in the late 60s/early 70s you practically couldn't get a book published if it didn't deal with some heavy issue.

  5. Good critical review about a book that doesn't agree with you. Thanks for insights!

  6. Nice review. I had a similar experience about the dog stuff--I do like dogs, but I'm not particularly interested in raccoon hunting or anything. Plus, animal deaths never pull at my heartstrings as much as they seem to for other people (I didn't include that in my review because it seemed so heartless, hah).

  7. I actually did get teary, because practically *anything* will do that to me these days. I blame motherhood. 15 years ago, I would have read it without a qualm. :P


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