Where the Red Fern Grows
First edition hardback cover
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
When leaving work in Idaho's Snake River Valley, Billy Colman sees a pack of dogs attacking a stray coonhound. He takes the stray home to feed it. Once it has rested, Billy sets it free, knowing that it will return home.
The experience reminds Billy of his childhood in the Ozark Mountains of Oklahoma. He wants a dog, and his parents offer to get him a collie from a neighbor. But Billy doesn't want just any dog; he wants two coonhounds, but his parents cannot afford them. Billy finds a magazine ad for a Kentucky kennel which breeds Redbone Coonhounds and sells them for $25 each. He goes to work performing odd jobs and saves the $50 he needs with the help of his grandfather. Since it takes two years to do so, his grandfather writes to see if the kennel will honor the ad. They do and the price has dropped, so the two puppies only cost $40.
Billy's dogs are delivered to the freight depot in Tahlequah. His family does not have transportation, so he finds his own way to get to the depot and walks through the hills. He picks up his puppies, which are a male and a female. He buys a gift for each member of his family with his extra $10 before heading back home, but before he leaves the town, he got into a fight with another kid over his puppies and was saved by the marshal.
On the way back home, he spends the night in a cave in the Sparrow Hawk Mountains. There he builds a fire and plays with the puppies. While trying to sleep, he hears a noise that he realizes is the cry of a mountain lion, and the male begins to bawl, challenging the mountain lion. In the morning, he continues on. He comes to a sycamore tree and the wind blew, then he saw the names Dan and Ann carved inside a heart in the bark and decides to name the puppies Old Dan and Little Ann.
To train Old Dan and Little Ann, Billy traps a raccoon with the help of his grandfather and uses its pelt to teach them to hunt. During their training, their personalities become apparent: Old Dan is brave and strong, but can be very reckless sometimes, while Little Ann is very intelligent and timid. Both are very loyal to each other and to Billy.
On the first night of hunting season, Billy takes Old Dan and Little Ann out for their first hunt. He promises them that if they tree a raccoon, he will do the rest. But they tree one in a large sycamore, which is the largest of all and Billy calls it the Big Tree. As he tries to call them off, they look at him sadly, so he begins to cuts the tree down, though it takes two days and costs him blistered hands. In the end, when he's about to give up his effort, Billy offers a short prayer for strength to continue. A strong wind starts to blow and the tree falls.
Billy and his hounds go hunting almost every night and become well-known in the Ozark Mountains. Billy and his grandfather make a bet with Rubin and Raine Pritchard that Old Dan and Little Ann can tree the elusive "ghost coon". It leads them on a long, complicated hunt, and Rubin and Raine want to give up. When they finally have the raccoon in a tree, Billy refuses to kill it. But then the Pritchard boy's dog, a blue tick hound called Old Blue, attacked Old Dan and Little Ann, and Rubin starts to beat Billy. Little Ann helps Old Dan gain the upper hand in the battle, and together they injured Old Blue, almost killing it, just then Rubin runs to attack them with an axe, but he trips, falls on it and dies. When old man Pritchard decided that he is not going to have a funeral for Rubin because he doesn't want to bother anyone, Billy feels bad and went to the graveyard and laid a flower upon his grave.
Billy's grandfather enters him into a championship coon hunt, putting him against experienced hunters and the finest dogs in the country. Before it starts, he enters Little Ann into a beauty contest, where she wins the silver cup. On the fourth night of the hunt, Old Dan and Little Ann tree three raccoons, making it to the final round. The sixth night, they tree one before a blizzard hits. Billy, his father, grandfather, and the judge lose sight of the dogs. When they finally find them, Billy's grandfather sprains his ankle. They build a fire, and when Billy's father chops down a tree, three raccoons jump out. Old Dan and Little Ann takes two of them down, and chase the third to another tree. In the morning, the hunters find them covered with ice circling the tree. That raccoon wins them the championship, gold cup, and $300 of jackpot money.
One night, while hunting, Old Dan and Little Ann see a mountain lion, and it attacks. Billy enters the fight with his axe, hoping to save his dogs, but they end up having to save him. Eventually, they killed the mountain lion, but Old Dan is badly wounded, and he dies late that night. Billy is heartbroken, and Little Ann loses the will to live, stops eating, and dies of grief a few days later on Old Dan's grave. Billy's father tries to tell him that it all happened for a reason because a few nights before, Billy's father and mother were talking about moving into town where there's not allowed to be any hounds, but they decided that Billy loves his hounds so much and said that when they move, they'll leave Billy with Grandpa, but God doesn't want a family to be separated, so he let Old Dan and Little Ann die. And on his last day in Ozark, he goes to visits Old Dan and Little Ann's graves and finds a giant red fern between them. Angry at first at the sight of the fern intruding upon his beloved dogs' graves, it is said that according to Native American legend, only an angel can plant one. He feels ready to move on, and as his older self, he said that he never went back to the Ozark Mountains but he would love to be back there again.
The novel was made into a 1974 film starring Stewart Petersen, James Whitmore, Beverly Garland, and Jack Ging. It was followed by a sequel in 1992, which starred Wilford Brimley, Chad McQueen, Lisa Whelchel, and Karen Carlson. The film was remade in 2003 and starred Joseph Ashton, Dabney Coleman, Ned Beatty and Dave Matthews.
Although sales of the novel began slowly, by 1974 over 90,000 copies had been sold. Today Where the Red Fern Grows is required reading in many American schools. In 2001, Publishers Weekly estimated that it had sold 6,754,308 copies. One critic said it will please adults as well as children.
I remember crying so much through this book, and even today I tear up thinking of Old Dan and Little Ann. I also loaned this to my [then] children's librarian, because the library copy was always out. I even marked the pages, "Get out tissue here."— DeAnn Okamura
I love, love, love this book with all my heart and soul. My fourth grade teacher read it to me eons ago, and I've read it to two of my three boys. There's something about weeping together uncontrollably that builds a community of readers…— Tess Alfonsin
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- Where the Red Fern Grows (1974) on IMDb
- "Where the Red Fern Grows: Part Two" – via www.imdb.com.
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- "Top 100 Children's Novels #34: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls". School Library Journal. Retrieved 2017-02-10.
- "Wilson Rawls". Idaho Falls Public Library. Retrieved 2017-02-10.