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
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.
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.
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.
- “Wilson Rawls.” Penguin Random House. https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/24998/wilson-rawls
- “Meet the Author: Wilson Rawls.” Houghton Mifflin. https://www.eduplace.com/kids/tnc/mtai/rawls.html
Take the quiz to see how many of the Great American Read nominees you have already read!