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Topic 1: Classic Novel

Paula's Young Adult Literature Website

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Where the Red Fern Grows

Rawls, Wilson. 1961. WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS. New York: Bantam Books. ISBN: 0553274295.


  WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS is a touching story about a boy named Billy, and the strong love he has for his two coonhounds, Old Dan and Little Ann.  As the story opens, Billy is a grown man reflecting back on his childhood and his hunting adventures he had with his dogs.  The story takes us back to the Ozark Mountains where a young boy’s only wish is to have two coon hound pups.  His family is poor and cannot afford to buy the dogs, so a very determined Billy works hard and saves enough money to order the dogs.  Billy sneaks out in the night and travels to town so that he can pick up his new pups.  As Billy returns home, he immediately wants to begin training his them.  Billy works very hard at training the pups and when raccoon season begins in the fall, the pups are ready.  The story continues through a series of adventures between Little Ann, Old Dan, and Billy.  They continually try to “tree” the elusive “ghost” coon. 


The protagonist, Billy, exemplifies determination, courage, love, and genuine devotion.  In one very dramatic episode, Billy has made a bet with two boys Rainie and Rubin that his dogs can tree the famous “ghost” coon.  The dogs lead the boys on a rather long and extensive chase and Rainie and Rubin want to give up.  Billy refuses by stating that he wouldn’t give up until his dogs did.  As the story continues, it appears that the dogs have lost the coon and Billy pays the boys the $2.00 he owes them.  As it turns out, Little Ann in fact has found the coon but Billy refuses to kill it.  He wants his money back from the boys, but they refuse to give it to him and a fight breaks out.  Through a series of events, one of the boys is killed by falling onto an axe and Billy is very upset by the events.  Billy discusses the incident with his mother and after putting some flowers on the boys grave eventually begins to feel better.


Billy eventually enters a coon hunting contest and wins the tournament.  He receives a jackpot of $300.  As the story proceeds, Billy and his hounds continue to hunt.  However, on one outing his dogs don’t tree a coon, but a mountain lion.  The mountain lion attacks the dogs and Billy tries to save the pups while using his axe.  Unfortunately, the dogs end up having to save Billy’s life.  Old Dan is wounded very badly while Little Ann fairs much better.  A few days later, Old Dan dies leaving Billy and Little Ann distraught.  Billy buries Old Dan in a beautiful spot up on the hill where he will be able to hear the sounds of other hounds hunting.  Because of Old Dan’s death, Little Ann has lost her will to love and goes up onto the hill and dies also.  Billy buries her beside Old Dan.  As the story concludes, Billy and his family are moving to town so that the children will get a better education.  As Billy goes to say goodbye to his dogs, he sees a beautiful red fern growing from the mound where the dogs were buried.  An old Indian legend has it, that only an angel can plant the beautiful red fern.  Billy and his family are comforted by this thought as they leave their home to start fresh in town.  The story then returns back to the grown man indicating that he has never been back to the Ozark Mountains.  “All I have left are my dreams and memories, but if God is willing, some day I’d like to go back—back to those beautiful hills.  I’d like to walk again on trails I walked in my boyhood days.” 


Wilson Rawls has created an amazing story of a young boy and his strong love for his dogs.  The underlying themes of determination and love are very powerful and moving.  All of the characters except for Rainie and Rubin exemplify strong morals and provide wonderful examples of what is “right.” states, “A straightforward, shoot-from-the-hip storyteller with a searingly honest voice, Rawls is well-loved for this powerful 1961 classic.”  WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS is a classic novel that all young adults must read.  It is a story so beautifully written that it can bring its readers to tears.           


Topic 1: Graphic Novel

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