Wilson Rawls’ 1961 novel “Where the Red Fern Grows” is about 10-year-old Billy Coleman, a country boy who wants purebred hunting dogs. Because his family can’t afford them, Billy works for two years picking huckleberries and selling fishing bait to buy them himself. Together they win money in a hunting championship while surviving a freezing storm. After Billy’s dogs are killed during a hunt, the family moves into town.
The novel is told from the perspective of Billy Coleman as an adult recalling his coming of age in the Ozarks. Once 12-year-old Billy has earned the money for his Redbone Coonhound puppies, he must prove he can raise them and train them to hunt so that they can earn their keep. Proof of his skill and success comes from hunting challenges of increasing difficulty and income from selling raccoon hides. This success culminates in a gold cup raccoon hunting championship where Billy wins $300 but almost loses the dogs to a raging storm. He saves them by warming them by a fire – further proof of his skills.
However, later when the dogs hunt down a mountain lion, Billy can neither call them off nor heal their fatal injuries. The next spring, the family moves into town using the money from the raccoon hides and the hunting contest so that the children can get better a education. Just before they leave, Billy visits the dogs’ graves and finds a red fern growing there. Recalling the Indian legend that only angels plant red ferns that grow forever, Billy comes to terms with the death of his dogs and promises to remember them.