Old Dan and Little Nan are the best hunting dogs in the Ozarks and the best friends of Billy. They have kept me company most of the week as I read chapters in fits and starts and then decided to just sit myself down and read it through and through. Where the Red Fern Grows did not disappoint me, though it made me shudder and brought me to tears more than once.
Where the Red Fern Grows is a children’s book by Wilson Rawls and it is the story of a young boy, longing for two red hounds while living in the Ozarks with his family in the woods. Billy works hard for two years and secretively saves enough money, $50, to buy two hound puppies that he reads about in a magazine left behind by outdoorsmen in the woods and the river bottoms he frequents. With the help of his grandfather, Billy gets his pups, then he raises them and teaches them to hunt “coons”, and becomes somewhat famous in his little neck of the woods of Oklahoma. Billy names his pups Old Dan and Little Nan in a touching moment of the story that I will leave you to find out someday if you read the book.
The story is about the love of a boy for his dogs and the love of a family. It is about overcoming obstacles to achieve goals and it is about faith and endurance and character as well.
When I mentioned the book and that I had never quite gotten around to reading it last spring, Katy mentioned she had it and would lend it to me. That she did, this summer, for which I am grateful. Thanks, Katy!
The book is a challenging read for its subject matter more than its words. Hunting with hounds for racoon is not for the faint of heart. It is hard work and violent in its nature and the book has its moments of sheer terror. It also has tender moments and we discover as we read that the hides that are sold have a big part in eventually moving the family out of near poverty, allowing Billy and his sisters to finally be able to attend school. There is great sadness and accidents that are not easy to read as well, but which carry us along with Billy as he learns and grows and perseveres. Most good books are not necessarily easy to read , are they? They make us think and feel uncomfortable and cry and even shut the book for a while.
The story, a novel, is based on Wilson Rawls’ childhood. Rawls grew up, much as Billy does, on a small farm in the Ozarks. His mother taught him to read until he and his sister could finally attend school. It took him years and years to write Where the Red Fern Grows, which started first as a serial,”Hounds of Youth” in the “Saturday Evening Post” and was first published as an adult novel. Only when schoolchildren started to read it and launched a campaign for it to become a children’s book did it reach the level of fame it has maintained since 1961.
We get two good stories out of Where the Red Fern Grows; the story of Billy, Old Dan and Little Nan, and the story of Wilson Rawls.