Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Book Review: Where the Red Fern Grows

We always hear how important it is to read to our children and I always have, but not consistently every day. This year we've added a new aspect to our alouds. I've been consistent with reading nearly every night at bedtime and being more deliberate in what I choose to read. It's been such a blessing! We have, for the first time, a regular bedtime that happens to be earlier than they are used to. There's no complaints, though, because the kids are looking forward to the next chapter in our current book.

We started the year with Mr. Popper's Penguins, a book I enjoyed as a child and have been wanting to read to my children. From there, we moved on to Where the Red Fern Grows.

I somehow made it through childhood without reading this book myself. I chose it because we've also been studying dogs in science and will be learning about raccoons soon. It is also considered a classic so I knew it would be well-written. It was a perfect fit.

The book tells the story about Billy, a poor boy growing up in the Ozark Mountains who develops a dog-wanting disease. Through two years of hard work, he manages to earn enough money to buy himself two redbone coonhounds. He trains his dogs to hunt raccoons and the threesome become very adept at the sport. As the book describes the hunting adventures and mishaps of the boy and his hounds, the reader begins to feel a connection with the threesome. It's the perfect book for any boy with the protagonist being a boy, the dogs, the hunting, and all their adventures.

The book is very well-written. I was delighted by the many descriptive passages, adjectives, and strong verb choices used by the author. The writing keeps you engaged and wanting more from the very first sentence to the very last...that is if you can manage to read the last two chapters.

This book can be the starting point for a rich unit study. There's the obvious literature analysis that can be done. It is filled with rich vocabulary to learn. It can easily be used for grammar studies, teaching the use of adjectives, adverbs, and strong verbs. It can be a jumping point for a lot of science research if you look into the many types of animals and and plants mentioned. A little social studies can be added by looking up the setting on a map and learning about the time period and culture. Character study comes in the form of discussing the actions taken by Billy, a truly admirable character.

The only hesitation I would have in recommending the book for everyone of all ages is that a child dies midway through the book and the ending is very sad. The child who dies is an antagonist, so we don't come to care for him, and his death comes about as an accident. You'll really need to judge whether a young child or an especially sensitive child can handle the ending. I was concerned about my daughter, who tends to be sensitive, especially where animals are concerned. Thus, I chose to read the last two chapters during the day rather than at bedtime. We finished the book this morning. My son, age 6, was fine. My daughter cried a little but was generally fine. I, on the other hand, had a very difficult time reading the book. With tears flooding down my face, my nose running, and my voice cracking up, I did make it through to the end though...barely. It was truly the saddest thing I've ever read.

It is easily one of the best books I've ever read. If you haven't read it yet, it's time to pick up a copy and do so. Make sure you have some tissues on hand for the last two chapters.

BTW, there's a study guide you can get for the book and two movie adaptions. We'll be watching Disney's 20o3 adaptation tonight and I have the original 1974 movie on my Netflix queue.

**Disclosure: This review was provided of my own free will. I did not receive anything from the publisher, author, or anyone else for the review. I'm just sharing my feelings, opinions, and experiences that are part of our homeschooling experience.

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Anonymous said...

That sounds like such a touching book. I have this one on our list to read this year. Thanks for the review.

Mommy to One said...

Thanks so much for the review. It has really helped me to decide when we might be ready to read it since I have not read it yet. I loved reading about Mika's response to the story. It's a beautiful and amazing thing to be able to foster that kind of love for books.