It’s always interesting to me, being that I am such an avid science fiction reader and a Trekkie as well, that this book always pops up in my mind when the question is asked as to what my favorite book is. But for me, the book entitled “Where The Red Fern Grows” written by Wilson Rawls will always stand out as the best book I have ever read.
I first came across this book in the fifth grade when our teacher read it to us in class. The book is a very simple story about a young boy who lived in the Ozark mountains and wanted nothing more than to own some hound dogs to hunt racoons. Not one hound dog, but two. His parents didn’t have much money so he ended up saving the money himself over the course of a few years and buys the dogs. He names them Little Ann and Big Dan as he had seen the names carved into a tree and thought they were fitting.
He then sets about training them to hunt and has many exciting adventures with them. There was one story about a very large tree that they had treed a coon in and how he struggled and struggled and could not get that tree chopped down and then suddenly a wind came and finished the job. Almost as if God was giving him a hand.
There’s one part of the book where the boy (Billy) is confronted by a couple brothers and takes part in a bet to see who can get the most coons in one night. That night doesn’t end well and so if you are having your child read this, keep that in mind. However, it doesn’t come close to the violence in most TV shows today, but it was a little scary for my 11 year old mind at the time.
He gets an opportunity to put the dogs in a championship coon hunt and the stories of his dogs loyalty to him and their intelligence was fun to read. I especially remember how Little Ann won the beauty contest.
The story ends on a sad note. The three of them are out hunting and are attacked by a mountain lion. In their attempt to defend Billy, Little Ann is injured and Big Dan is killed. Unfortunately, Little Ann is so devastated by the loss of her companion that she refuses to eat and one day Billy finds her dead at the grave of Big Dan. Heartbroken he buries her with Dan.
His parents then tell him that the money he had raised from all his coon skins have enabled them to move away from the Ozarks. His parents were convinced that God allowed this to happen to the dogs because He knew that they would not be able to take the dogs with them and they had been agonizing over how to break it to Billy. They had even considered leaving him with his Grandpa and they figured God didn’t want the family broken up so therefore he allowed the dogs to die.
When they were leaving the Ozarks for good, Billy went one more time to see the gravesite of his companions. Amazingly, a red fern had grown over the area. The family was in awe, because legend had it that only an angel can plant a red fern and where it grew was sacred.
I love dogs and this story was always such a special one no matter how many times I read it. I still own a copy of this book. But part of this story took on special significance for me a few years back.
We owned a border collie/blue heeler named Freckles. She was the absolute best dog I have ever owned in my life. Unfortunately she did not live long. We had to put her to sleep when she was 2 years old as she had lost 75% use of her kidneys and was not able to recover. It was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. I was 35 years old and I cried as if I was 11. They say you only get one real true companion dog in your life and I think she was the one.
But why this stood out for me and made me think of the book was the fact that the very year Freckles died we moved from Minnesota to South Dakota. I had been trying for several months to find a job as a software developer in South Dakota that year and was finally successful. Freckles died 6 months before that happened though and there is a part of me that thinks God might have taken her because we would not have found a place very easily that would allow animals. I don’t know for sure if that’s true, but I wonder at times.
But as far as the book goes, if you like animal stories and are up to the emotional roller coaster that the book puts you on, it’s well worth the read. And to Mr. Schwartz, my 5th grade teacher, I say thank you. You put a story in my life that has been wonderful and exciting to come back to over the years and one I have enjoyed sharing with my own children.
NOTE: This was originally published by myself on my old HubPages account on 2/17/2009.