Author Wilson Rawls spent his boyhood much like the character of this book, Billy Colman, roaming the Ozarks of northeastern Oklahoma with his bluetick hound. A straightforward, shoot-from-the-hip storyteller with a searingly honest voice, Rawls is well-loved for this powerful 1961 classic and the award-winning novel Summer of the Monkeys. In Where the Red Fern Grows, Billy and his precious coonhound pups romp relentlessly through the Ozarks, trying to “tree” the elusive raccoon. In time, the inseparable trio wins the coveted gold cup in the annual coon-hunt contest, captures the wily ghost coon, and bravely fights with a mountain lion. When the victory over the mountain lion turns to tragedy, Billy grieves, but learns the beautiful old Native American legend of the sacred red fern that grows over the graves of his dogs. This unforgettable classic belongs on every child’s bookshelf.
Billy Colman was the fourth of six children, and wasn’t fond of all the noise and people crammed into his home. So when the neighbor’s hound dog had more puppies in her little than the neighbor knew what to do with, Billy quickly adopted two of the puppies. He named them Hop and Skip, and began training them to be champion coonhounds.
It turns out that Hop has a natural talent for finding raccoons and chasing them down. Skip is hopeless alone, but once he catches on to what Hop is doing, he helps her the animals towards Billy. Billy’s still too young to be allowed to carry a gun, but he does make a blow-gun, and dips the end of the needles in his mom’s “Special Medication”, used only when there’s nasty injuries and no doctor near. It knocks the raccoons out within seconds.
Soon it’s time for the yearly coon-hunt contest. One raccoon had been captured, had it’s tail painted green, then released into the woods earlier that morning. The first hunter to bring it out would win the golden cup. Hop found it within ten minutes, and Skip and Him chased the poor animal up a tree, where Billy was able to knock it out easily. He used the money from the win to buy a chicken-coop for his family, and fill it with hens.
Then one night an animal breaks into the pen, killing several hens. Billy finds the tracks leading away the next morning, and note that they belong to a raccoon who’s missing his front, left paw. He knows there’s only one coon in the woods with no left paw, and that’s the Ghost Coon. The Ghost Coon is infamous in Billy’s town. Uncatchable, it had terrorized all the townsfolk’s chicken coups, ravaged the butcher shop, and once made of with the mayor’s pocket watch.
Billy tracks down Ghost Coon, and bags the unconscious body. But on his way back, he hears a rustling in the trees, and a mountain lion jumps down. It’s skinny, obviously starving, and can small the coon in the bag. But Billy wants the coon. Not only did it personally attack his chickens, there’s a large bounty on it’s head set out by the mayor. So instead of running away, he stands his ground, managing to smack the cat’s side before it knocked him to the ground.
Hop and Skip jump to his rescue, and in a daring fight manage to drive away the mountain lion. They manage to follow Billy home, bleeding heavily.
The next morning the dogs are acting strangely. Billy uses a good chunk of his reward money to take them to the veterinarian.
The dogs have rabies, and the vet immediately takes them outside and sends a bullet straight through their skulls.
Billy is inconsolable. He buries the dogs out in the woods, and comes to the grave every day to sit and talk to the dogs. Over time, plants sprout up from the grave. They are deep red ferns, and Billy is curious about the plants. He’s never seen them before. So he goes to his librarian who tells him about the two indian children that froze to death when they were lost in a blizzard. When their bodies were discovered and buried, red ferns grew from that spot, and never died. Those same ferns were now covering the grave of Billy’s dogs.