Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls is absolutely, without a doubt, my number one favorite, despite the many books I’ve read over half a century. Just ask my kids. They will tell you. Every time I hear it mentioned, which isn’t often, I say, “Oh, that’s my favorite book ever!” I’m guessing I have company with others loving it, too. Who wouldn’t love Little Ann and Old Dan? Hound dogs that win your heart. Break it, too.
In District #37, our country school, one excellent teacher, Mrs. McGuire, read a book to us every day for fifteen minutes after noon recess. We had an hour for lunch and recess time, plenty of time to rev up. She encouraged us, all grades, to lay our heads down with our bright red faces with sweat dripping off our foreheads. We fell into a quiet relaxation, not a sound in the room except her voice reading, taking us to different places and characters. It might have been the only silent time in the entire day and certainly my best-loved moment.
Once, when Mrs. McDonald reached the last chapter of Where the Red Fern Grows and the plight of Old Dan (I’ll try not to explain it, though you probably have an idea), sobs could be heard around the room. Mrs. McDonald could hardly read it, tears running down her face too. I thought it was just our tears, but later realized she, too, couldn’t get through the story. It made me love her forever, how the book touched her too, that she was unafraid to show it and let her tears flow with us. She finally said, “Okay students, here’s what we’ll do. You can use the mudroom with a friend and read the chapter to each other to finish it.”
We three girls in the fifth grade took the book and drug our three chairs into the small room with its swinging door to the classroom, the faded wooden floor, and mint green walls with a small window near the ceiling. It was no longer used as an entrance, but rather to study with each other, which usually ended up in giggles or sneaking open the old squeaky door to bravely run around the schoolhouse in hopes to not be caught. We figured she wouldn’t know. The sometimes naivety of children.
However, there were no giggles this time. First, Peggy read a few pages of the last chapter, then Debbie, then me. We sobbed through the last pages, Kleenexes in hand. I’m sure the kids in the actual school room heard us, but never to mind. It would soon be their turn to sit in the little room and cry, shedding tears after those before.
This story always warms me. The way a book can take you into a world and connects you to others. Relatable characters, vivid scenes and great dialogue combine to make a remarkable book, just like Where the Red Fern Grows.