Young Billy has always dreamed of having a dog. Not just any dog, and not just one dog. Billy dreams of having two raccoon hounds and raising them to hunt. Billy works and works to save money to buy himself these dogs, and has no idea the true value that they will bring to his life.
Billy Colman and his family live on a farm in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains in Oklahoma. Surrounded by woods, Billy has always wanted to hunt like his father, and dreams of owning two of his very own raccoon hound dogs. However, Billy’s parents can’t afford to buy dogs and feed their four children, so Billy knows he must make his dream happen on his own. When Billy sees an ad in the paper that hound puppies are for sale in town, he immediately begins working odd jobs and saving his money in an old K.C. Baking Powder can. Day after day, week after week, month after month Billy saves his money, and after two years, he finally has enough.
Billy tells his grandfather, who owns the small convenience store in town, about his plans. His grandfather is amazed and impressed at his persistence, and helps arrange a purchase in Tahlequah; Billy decides to make the journey alone and with no help. During Billy’s journey into town, he meets some kids in a schoolyard, and learns that life in town is certainly different from life on the farm. When Billy arrives and sees his pups for the first time, emotion runs through him; he finally has his dogs. On the way home, Billy encounters some bullies and realizes just how strong the love between him and his dogs already is. During the night when they are camping and hear the cries of a mountain lion nearby, Billy realizes that his pups are brave and loyal and that nothing can come between them.
When Billy arrives home with his dogs, his parents are relieved that he is home safe, and his little sisters are ecstatic to have puppies to play with. Billy names the dogs Old Dan and Little Ann, and immediately gets to work training them to hunt raccoons. The puppies are naturals, and it doesn’t take long for them to gain a reputation as being some of the best hunting dogs around. So when the Pritchard boys, Rubin and Rainie, bet Billy that his dogs can’t catch the “Ghost Coon”, a raccoon who is known to be impossible to catch, Billy accepts the challenge. Old Dan and Little Ann catch the raccoon, but a tragic accident occurs: while running with his ax, Rubin tripped and fell on it, and died from his wounds. Billy feels extremely guilty and blames himself for Rubin’s death; if only he hadn’t taken the boys up on that bet, Rubin would be alive. Grandpa tries to cheer Billy up by telling him about the big championship raccoon hunt, and enters Old Dan and Little Ann into the contest.
Billy, his father, and his grandfather set off with the dogs to the championship contest. During the hunt, they encounter many challenges, including a storm and Grandpa falling and getting injured. The dogs almost freeze to death when they are separated from Billy, but they are found walking in circles to keep themselves warm. After a tense last catch, Old Dan and Little Ann are the winners of the contest, and everyone celebrates. When they all return home, Billy continues to hunt as usual, and one night he and the dogs find themselves face to face with a mountain lion. Old Dan and Little Ann save Billy’s life, but sadly Old Dan’s injuries were fatal, and he dies.
Billy is devastated over the loss of Old Dan, but Little Ann is worse. She goes into a deep depression, won’t eat, and has clearly lost the will to live without her beloved brother. Not long after Old Dan dies, Little Ann lies on his grave and dies as well. After both dogs are buried, Billy tries to move on, but he wonders why God would bring these two dogs into his life only to take them away in such a horrible way. When the family has enough money to move because of the money the dogs won from the contest, Billy begins to realize that maybe that was the purpose of Old Dan and Little Ann; to help the family. The day that the family moves, Billy visits the dogs’ graves and sees the sacred red fern growing on them.
Where the Red Fern Grows is a beautifully written story about the love between a boy and his dogs. It is a story of loyalty, perseverance, love, and family. Students will love the relationship between Billy and his dogs, and teachers will love the lessons that they all teach. Where the Red Fern Grows is a classic that is a perfect addition to all classroom libraries.
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