Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls is a tale of a hard-working, tenacious young boy and the relationship he had with his father, grandfather, and his dogs. The book left us with new vocabulary and good examples of integrity to refer back to. Throughout the book we were able to talk about what it means to work hard, have patience, save money, and the beauty of delayed gratification.
The kids were captivated by the Ozarks and we spent time looking at pictures online and dreaming up family vacations. Google images was visited often, inquiring about blue tic hounds, a brace and bit, and the actual red fern. Sadly, our local garden stores did not have any. We did skip over some of the graphic language about the death of Ruben, for the little ears. I will never forget our whole family jumping up and cheering together when Little Ann trees THREE coons in the same tree!
One of the most profound parts of the book was when Billy asks his grandfather for help with catching a coon to train his dogs. The metal traps weren’t working. Billy’s grandfather tells him how to build a trap in a log. He makes a hole with a brace and bit, hammers in some nails diagonally and places something shiny at the bottom.
It takes a minute for Billy to figure it out, that the coon would not let go of the shiny object even if it costs him his life. And just a few days later, Billy finds the coon clutching the shiny object, unwilling and unable to let go and escape. A meaningless piece of trash costs the coon his life.
At some point, I would have explained to my kids that most things aren’t worth hanging on to and that Life is found in letting go. The beauty of reading as a family is that this book has given us a memorable example of that lesson. The kids will continue to learn from the characters, the struggles and triumphs that Billy faced, and our shared experience.
My teacher read this book to the class when I was in the fifth grade. Even the boys cried when the dogs died. This time around, my eyes welled up at different parts of the book than they did when I was a fifth grader. While the obvious sadness of loss still affected me, I was surprised with tears through the parts that I did not remember as well, like the conversations that Billy had with his mom, and his integrity in losing (and then winning!) the championship hunt. The shiny objects are different now too. And I know that as a mom, I carry the responsibility of showing my kids how to let go.
Jeremiah built the trap by himself and checks it every day to see if he caught a coon. There are no coons in this neighborhood… But as he said, “Tin foil is really shiny, so you never know.”