Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

The Great American Read is an eight-part television series celebrating and discussing America’s top 100 novels as chosen by a survey of approximately 7,200 people.  Americans can vote on their favorite book once a day until the winner is revealed on October 23.  Here at Pages Unbound, we’ll be joining the fun by reading, reviewing, and discussing some of the nominees!


Goodreads: Where the Red Fern Grows
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 1961


Billy Colman wants nothing more than to own two red coonhounds, but his family cannot afford them.  For two years he works to save the money himself and then, at last, he, Old Dan, and Little Ann are an inseparable trio, the best hunting team around.  The classic story of a boy and his dogs.

Star Divider


When I left my office that beautiful spring day, I had no idea what was in store for me.

Set in what appears to be the 1920s in the Ozarks, Where the Red Fern Grows is a celebration of the ties that bind people and their animals.  In many ways, the plot follows a simple trajectory, eschewing drama in order to focus on the relationships.  The result is a compelling story sure to melt the hearts of readers.  I never thought I would fall in love with a story about a boy and his dogs, but Wilson Rawls won me over from the start.

Though the 1920s were certainly a different time with different values, I immediately found myself entering into Billy’s world with sympathy and compassion.  Billy is simply too plucky for me not to root for him.  His perseverance in working for his dogs, his willingness to suffer for them without complaint, and his hard work in training them all made me love him.  He may live so far in the country that he has never seen a school or a soda pop, but he loves the life he has and he faces any challenges with cheerful determination.  His mother may dream of living in the city, but his heart is in the woods and readers have to respect that.

The dogs’ love for Billy return, however, is what really makes the book. They have a wonderful relationship, with Old Dan and Little Ann refusing to hunt with anyone but Billy.  They also look out for each other on the trail, lick each other’s wounds, and share what they have.  Billy believes in them so much that he refuses to break any promises he makes to them, often wearing himself out or risking his own life to make sure that they know he will always come through for them.  The dogs take pride in their work hunting raccoons and Billy understands that and respects it in a way others will not.  Billy treats his dogs like people, not animals.

Where the Red Fern Grows is a beautiful story that justly deserves its status as a classic.  You will want a box of tissues handy as you sob over Billy’s determination and his dogs’ devotion.

Star Divider

About the Author

Born in the Ozark Mountains, Wilson Rawls received little formal education.  He was inspired to write by Jack London’s Call of the Wild, but in his adulthood ended up destroying several manuscripts because he was ashamed of his spelling and grammar.  His wife encouraged him to rewrite Where the Red Fern Grows, however, and then acted as a copy editor for him.  Where the Red Fern Grows was published in 1961.


Take the quiz to see how many of the Great American Read nominees you have already read!

4 stars


12 thoughts on “Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

  1. La La in the Library says:

    This was one of my favorite books as a preteen. Just about all I read back then were horse and dog themed books. I think I read it three times, and even though I knew what was coming during the re-reads I still bawled like a baby. The movie does that to me, too. I should do a re-read. Thanks for sharing your review. 📚


  2. (Danielle) Books, Vertigo and Tea says:

    Lovely review Krysta! I feel like this is one I know I should read but cannot bring myself to do so. I watched the film and was emotionally done in as a child. I am such a crier with booms and movies haha. I am not sure I am ever going to feel ready to tackle it 🖤


  3. David says:

    This is one of those books that was always on school bookshelves but that I never got around to. It didn’t seem as adventurous as the other books I liked; I wonder if I’d like it more as an adult than as a boy? Regardless, thanks for the review!

    Another cool thing about the Great American Read is that they partnered with one of my favorite video essayists, Lindsay Ellis, for a special YouTube series. The video on book-to-film adaptations is here: https://youtu.be/vog2G3HkJ6U

    You should check out her personal YouTube channel, it’s really great. Her investigation into the making of The Hobbit movies is really eye-opening.


    • Krysta says:

      I never read it before because I had a vague idea it was a “sad dog book” and I wasn’t really into that. But I think I do enjoy it much more now than I would have had I picked it up as a child. Even though Rawls wrote the book for children, to me, a good part of its charm is the nostalgia for a simpler time, just a boy and his dogs together in the woods. I fear I may have been bored if I’d read it when I was in elementary school.

      Ooh, nice! I haven’t seen that YouTube series. I’ll have to check out Ellis’s channel!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Jackie B @ Death by Tsundoku says:

    This is a fun way to connect with The Great American Read. I don’t watch TV, so I haven’t been following along. Is it fascinating? I assume it is because, you know, books. 😉

    Where the Red Fern Grows tore me up when I read it a few years ago. I never read it as a child, and I’m glad for that. I would have cried through the whole novel. As it was, I bawled enough. Old Dan and Little Ann are two of my favorite characters of all time. It’s amazing how Rawls is able to turn these dogs, with no dialogue what-so-ever, into vibrant characters. The writing blows me away.

    Was this your first time reading this book? How many other books from The Great American Read are you aiming to read?


    • Krysta says:

      My understanding is that an introduction aired in May and then the series starts airing in September. But voting is open online now. I didn’t see the introduction, so I don’t know how it was. XD

      Yes! I loved Little Ann and Old Dan so much! And I cried through pretty much the whole book.

      This was my first time reading Where the Red Fern Grows. I don’t really have a goal in mind. To be honest, I’m not interested in reading most of the books that were nominated. The Alchemist, The Hunt for Red October, 50 Shades, Twilight…not really my genres.


Leave a Reply! We'd love to read your thoughts!

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.