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07 September 2012

An oldie but a goodie: Where the Red Fern Grows

*This was first posted yesterday on The Nerdy Book Club blog*

Gosh, where to start?  I have so many memories and emotions tied in with Where The Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, I guess I'll start at the beginning.

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(image via amazon)
A loving threesome, they ranged the dark hills and river bottoms of Cherokee country. Old Dan had the brawn. Little Ann had the brains, and Billy had the will to make them into the finest hunting team in the valley. Glory and victory were coming to them, but sadness waited too. Where the Red Fern Grows is an exciting tale of love and adventure you'll never forget.

My 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. B, read to us every day after lunch, usually just a chapter at a time.  When she first started doing this, I was like, "UHHHH!  I'm in 3rd grade!  I can read to myself!"  But then, she started reading pretty cool books like The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and Where the Red Fern Grows (books that I would never have even known to pick at the library on my own) and I was enthralled. 

At first, I thought this was just a "boy book" and that "I don't care about stupid hunting dogs."  And then I met Old Dan and Little Ann (and geez, I'm tearing up at the thought of them).  I fell in love with those floppy eared, big hearted dogs.

And so I needed my own copy, so I could read along with Mrs. B.

Mrs. Be is a devout Christian woman.  Where the Red Fern Grows has some bad words in it.  Mrs. B would take her pen, while she was reading, and crossed out the bad word and substituted a new "clean" word instead.  I, of course, did the same.  Only in purple, sparkly ink.  

The day before we read the ending, Mrs. B told us that it was a sad one.  She warned us that we may need tissues.  I brought my own little pocket packet and used them all.  It was not a pretty cry.  I don't think the class was able to function for the rest of the day.  Then we watched the movie (the original, not the remake with Dave Matthews!) and the tears started again.

Flash forward to three years ago.  I saw the Where the Red Fern Grows movie (with Dave Matthews) on tv and wanted to reread it.  I got it from the library and sat, with my dog, Skipper on my lap, and read all afternoon.  At one point, Skipper started licking the tears off my face, which made me cry even harder because I KNEW that was something Little Ann would do.

Then, when our principal and literacy coach asked us two years ago what our favorite children's book was, I knew, hands down, that it was Where the Red Fern Grows.  They then purchased a copy of each teacher's favorite book for them to put in their classroom, use as a read aloud, etc.  My copy was delivered when I had a group of 5th graders, and of course, I started tearing up.
"Mrs. Furman," they said, "What's wrong?"
 "Its ok, kiddos.  This is just my favorite book.  I just love it so much.  But its really sad.  Its also about love.  Not the smootchy, kissy kind of love.  But the love where you would do anything for someone, just to make them happy or keep them safe."

And I didn't see that book again until the end of school.

Mrs. B didn't know what she was starting that fateful day back in 19mumble mumble.  It taught me to work hard for what you want, compassion for others, about family, and about love.  And that dogs truly are man's best friend.  

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