I've been going through a list of the top 100 most loved books in America and adding the ones that are banned to my library. Last month I sourced a first edition copy of “Where the Red Fern Grows”. It was battered and beaten, but I still sold it within days of posting it online. This month being February, the comic for this article is the cartoon that I designed for my boyfriend's Valentine's Day card. “Lady and the Tramp”, the most romantic dog movie ever made, goes along well with a discussion of “Where the Red Fern Grows” which is a book about dogs. Among other entrepreneurial pursuits, my friend Eileen was a dog trainer in Minnesota. I've designed a number of layouts for her which I've included in this article for her friends and the dog lovers out there. This month's Coupon Code is LUV4U which is good for 20% Off the “Blackest of Bile” bookshelf through the end of March.
“Where the Red Fern Grows” by Wilson Rawls is one of the most popular works of children's literature ever written. It is about a boy who buys and trains two Redbone Coonhounds for hunting. The book is a work of autobiographical fiction based on Rawls' own childhood in the Ozarks. My friend Eileen, the dog trainer, currently lives in Minnesota but we met when she lived in Florida. I suspect it’s cold in Minnesota during the winter like the Ozarks. I called New Year's Day to brag about a new kayak my boyfriend and I had gotten at Christmas because I had met Eileen while volunteering at a sailing non-profit for the disabled and we both loved the water, but I did not get an answer.
“Where the Red Fern Grows” is a coming-of-age story which deals with the classic theme of maturity as Billy learns to work hard, be a leader, and be self-reliant. Because the setting is in the Ozarks, man's relationship to nature is part of the ongoing narrative. A lesson often repeated in the book is that hard work pays off. This can be illustrated by how Billy saved up and purchased the two Redbone Coonhounds dogs, and then trained them. Throughout the story, we see how love, and not just loyalty, enables the trio to persist and overcome. I was not surprised that Eileen trained dogs after working with her at Sailability, the non-profit. She was such a dedicated and patient soul. I was even more impressed when she took in a puppy to train to be a service dog.
Love is woven throughout the novel and contributes to the sad ending. “Where the Red Fern Grows” has been banned for its content dealing with violence and death. While a novel about a boy and his dogs will often bring tears, the two coonhound siblings in this book don't just die. One is fatally attacked by a mountain lion, and the other one dies mourning its sibling's death while lying on its grave. Some parents believe that these are too weighty of subjects for young children to be able to process properly.
The most recent project Eileen and I were working on was a book of poetry from the 18th century written by one of her Irish ancestors. She felt studying your heritage and those who have gone on before you provides clues to your past and shows how you have evolved. By discovering more about your ancestors and celebrating family traditions; it can open your eyes to how beautiful and unique you are. I sent Eileen a book on gardening and a yard gnome at Christmas with a note that said “Gifts to keep your Rebel Mind busy during the cold Minnesota winter.” Yard Gnomes are of course banned at the prestigious Chelsea Garden Show in the UK, and as a collector of banned fine art objects, yard gnomes are something with which I'm obsessed. Eileen had called me about a month prior and told me that she had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. They were putting together a treatment plan and I figured she would need things to keep her mind occupied.
The title “Where the Red Fern Grows” comes from a Native American Indian myth that tells how a little boy and girl were lost in a blizzard and had frozen to death. In the spring, when they were found, a beautiful red fern had grown up between their two bodies. The story went on to say that only an angel could plant the seeds of a red fern, which would never die. Where a red fern grew, that spot was sacred. The title of the book implies that the Redbone Coonhounds were sent by God.
When I wasn't able to contact Eileen over Christmas or on New Year's Day I feared the worst and followed up on my suspicions. She had passed while I was out kayaking. Eileen, one of the most talented and caring dog trainers, celebrated the circle of life. She was also a licensed massage therapist and treated both new mothers and their babies. She saw in her practice that our lives, from beginning to end, resemble a complete, full circle.
By exposing children to books that teach principles like what are in “Where the Red Fern Grows”, they become adults that exemplify the characteristics they read about as children. Books such as these give them tools for how to cope with the challenges of life when they lose a loved one or a good friend like I did. Give children the ability to grow into positive role models like my friend Eileen by providing them access to a wide range of reading materials at an early age.