Great Books

with Dachelle McVey

We believe in the power of story.
In our Great Books column, you’ll find suggested titles for preschool, elementary, and secondary students—along with a book synopsis, why you’ll want to read it, discussion questions, and related books.
“When you read a book, you are in a mind-to-mind encounter with its author, whether he lived 1000 years ago or lives today. This is the wonder of real books—all kinds of books, not only the serious and factual. Your mind grows through these encounters.”
—Dr. Ruth Beechick
Elementary/Middle School
Where the Red Fern Grows
A Boy and His Dogs
Based on Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
Book Description:
This novel about a boy and his two dogs reeled me in during my fifth grade reading class, and it has been a favorite of mine ever since. I imagine that I am not alone in my love of Old Dan and Little Ann, either.

The story of the narrator, Billy Coleman, is told as a memory. Billy recounts his adventures earning money for his dogs, training them, and falling hopelessly in love with them.

It all begins as Billy sees an old hunting dog and remembers his dogs when he was a ten-year-old boy living in the Ozarks. Billy takes us back to the life of a poor boy and his family around the turn of the twentieth century. He shares his struggles with earning enough money to buy two hunting dogs and then having to retrieve them in another town without access to an automobile.

Through the book we learn about the people of the Oklahoma mountains and are excited as we watch the puppies grow into smart and athletic animals. Though the story has many happy parts, there are some sad ones that will definitely pull on your heartstrings.

Why You Will Want To Read This Book:
Though the book is written as fiction, it is based on the life of the author Wilson Rawls. This type of book is autobiographical fiction. Rawls takes his own memories and meshes them with fictional events to create a story that you can’t help but love.

Though some quickly define the overarching themes of loyalty and love, I feel like the more subtle themes of determination and sacrifice are much more valuable. Billy’s love for his dogs and their mutual love and respect engages the reader and helps them to understand that some things require hard work and because of that are much more precious to us.

However, I would be remiss if I didn’t also include the theme of the power of spirituality. Though this legend in the story is a work of fiction by the author, it emphasizes the importance of believing in something bigger than yourself.

Discussion Questions:
This book touches on a few sensitive areas that make it a great primer for some heart-to-heart discussions with your child.

Have you ever wanted anything as much as Billy wanted the dogs? Was it given to you or did you have to work for it? Was it worth the effort to get what you wanted? Would you work for two years for something like Billy did?

Billy and his dogs are hunters. How do you feel about hunting animals? Did the death of any of the animals or the people in the story make you feel sad? Why did these deaths affect you like that?

What is the significance of the red fern? Do you believe in a “higher power” like Billy?

More Books Like This:
The author only wrote two books in his career. The second, Summer of the Monkeys, is about a boy who captures and returns a group of monkeys that have escaped the circus.
For more fun with our literary adventure, check out the Where the Red Fern Grows Online Book Club from Literary Adventures for Kids.
Dachelle McVey

achelle McVey is a working homeschooling mom of 3 in the South. She is the owner of, a blog about her adventures in homeschooling and parenting. She is also the author of dozens of online book clubs for kids from preschool to high school at her site Literary Adventures for Kids. You can often find her reading a good book (or even sometimes just an okay book) and enjoying a jar of Nutella — don’t judge. ;)

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Activity Guide
For fun, hands-on activities for each of the Great Books, check out our Summer Activity Guide! …>
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