Where the Red Fern Grows

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
Where the Red Fern Grows Book Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Tearjerker about country boy and his hound dogs.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 21 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 78 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn about the way hunting dogs are trained, and get a glimpse at rural life in the Ozark Mountains in Oklahoma during the Great Depression.

Positive Messages

If you work hard for something, you will value it more. Also, the bond between dog and master is deep and profound.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Billy is honest, noble, and as faithful as his dogs, and he perseveres against daunting obstacles. Billy also has great examples to look up to in his hardworking and caring father, and his kind and devoted grandpa.


Billy's mother uses a switch to punish him. Billy is beaten by other children. There are many instances of trapping, hunting, wounding, and killing animals -- some more graphic than others. Billy's younger sisters are upset when they see their dad club a raccoon to death. A boy is killed accidentally when he falls on an ax. Animals fight, and there are graphic descriptions of their injuries.


"Damn" appears once, and "hell" is used a few times. The word "bitch" is used as the correct name for a female dog.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

An adult smokes a pipe; alcohol is taken on a trip, though drinking is not depicted.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Wilson Rawls' classic coming-of-age novel Where the Red Fern Grows is the story of Billy, a boy in the Ozarks during the Great Depression. Billy gets a pair of coonhounds as puppies and raises them to be exceptional hunting dogs. Billy exhibits excellent values of loyalty, patience, and devotion to his pets. However, the book includes detailed descriptions of hunting, killing, and skinning animals, as well as a gory description of a boy falling on an ax. Some scenes are quite bloody, and others are emotionally painful. This book may be difficult to take for sensitive animal-loving readers. Where the Red Fern Grows was made into a film in 1974, and again in 2003

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bySt. Dominic Lit April 2, 2019

Cry and Scream and Laugh

This is the best book. I read with a class of 6th graders.
One big theme is death. A boy dies in a freak accident. There is also a gruesome, detailed fight bet... Continue reading
Adult Written byFloyd S March 27, 2019

Paints vivid images

There are many positive reviews but I think it only fair to mention a few other points. The boy leaves home unannounced for 3 days when he gets the dogs, yet do... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old May 4, 2016

Sexist messages in the book

I HATED this book. There is so much sexism. Billy names his dogs Little Ann, the girl, and Old Dan, the boy. Billy's father also describes how women are d... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old June 10, 2021


I definitely think it’s a good book but it ended to quickly I think they should have made the book a little bit longer but other then that I love it and I think... Continue reading

What's the story?

Billy is growing up poor in the Ozarks during the Great Depression of the 1930s. More than anything, he wants a pair of redbone coonhounds. As it is cost-prohibitive for his parents to buy them, Billy works and saves for two years to buy them himself, then walks barefoot through the woods to the nearest town to pick them up. He spends months training the pups to be the best hunting dogs in the hills. His dreams come true as he enjoys nights out hunting with his dogs, and their fame spreads far and wide. Billy and his dogs are so good that his grandfather enters them in a championship coon hunt in which Billy will compete against grown men.

Is it any good?

This is.an exciting novel, full of fast-paced, exciting hunting scenes, but it also has great emotional depth. Billy's family life is warm and supportive, and his connection to his pets is quite profound. Young readers will care about Billy and his hounds, and will eagerly follow them through every plot twist and adventure.

Where the Red fern Grows is also a romantic period piece that portrays a rural America where a boy could ramble through the countryside with his dogs all night long, in complete freedom. Based on the author's own boyhood, this boy-and-his-dog story is exciting, uplifting, and heartbreaking. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the way hunting is portrayed in Where the Red Fern Grows. Does the author make hunting seem exciting? If so, how?

  • Where the Red Fern Grows is a coming-of-age novel. What are some ways that you can tell Billy is growing up in the story? How does his dad's attitude toward him change?

  • What makes Billy's dogs special? Why do you thing stories about beloved animals are so popular?

Book details

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For kids who love friendship

Themes & Topics

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