Where the Red Fern Grows

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One of the very best books I read when I was a kid was "Where the Red Fern Grows" by Wilson Rawls. I read it in the fourth grade along with another book by Rawls, "Summer of the Monkeys."

My recollections of the two books have faded with time, to the point that the only thing I really remembered about them were that they took place in the Ozark mountains of Arkansas, that there were dogs involved, that Where the Red Fern Grows was better than Summer of the Monkeys, and that the movie of WtRFG was horrible.

So, now that I'm on my dog kick, I'm trying to examine why it is that I've always wanted a dog, and a few things stick out. There was the time that someone brought a litter of puppies to Sunday school, and I desperately wanted one. There's also my memories of reading Where the Red Fern Grows and Old Yeller, and my always pleasant experiences with Buffy and Charlie (the Espeland's Cocker Spaniels). To balance that out, I also remember Mrs. Highland's dog, Abby, the Collie who was horribly behaved, but that didn't bother me too much. There was also the dog that ran out from the house next to the veterinarian's and bit me when I was riding my bike to the Espelands (the only time I've ever done that). Also, there was the very real experience of living with a sweet, but often misbehaved Chocolate Lab that had some emotional baggage (This was a great experience because it taught me quite a few things that I want in a dog, and quite a few things that I don't want in a dog).

Having identified all of these formative dog experiences, I'm trying to go back and re-examine them. Sometimes when you're young, you get these ideas in your head and they grow into some sort of ideal not challenged by reality. For instance, I read Robinson Crusoe and so naturally I would like to be shipwrecked on an island... wait, let's back that up there and re-examine. See what I mean?

Anyhow, since I wanted to get a book on picking the right dog, I also put in holds for Where the Red Fern Grows, Summer of the Monkeys, and Old Yeller. Well, I'm pleased to announce that after a few hours or reading, Where the Red Fern Grows still stands up as one of my favorite books of all times.

One of the dangers of reading books meant for young children is that you find out they weren't as good as you remembered. Not the case. WtRFG is still pitch-perfect, even for a reader of 26. It's not a complicated narrative, but it's engrossing and captivating and emotional. Billy, the protagonist, wants dogs so badly that he works like crazy for two years to save up the money to buy them. He doesn't just want any dog. He wants two purebreed redbone hounds so he can hunt raccoons. After finally saving up enough for the hounds, he goes on adventure after adventure getting the puppies, training them, learning about perseverance, learning about tragedy, learning about triumph, and finally learning how to put things in perspective. Throughout the book, he turns cynics into believers, learns about unconditional love, and displays an unbelievable generosity, that he never seems to grasp himself.

I remember crying the first time I read it. Even though I didn't cry this time, I still wanted to. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: 5 of 5 stars.