This summer, every Monday and Wednesday, I am hosting a series of guest posts here on my blog, a series called Middle Grade Memories. In this series, authors, agents, librarians, and editors talk about their favorite childhood middle grade books. I’m beyond thrilled to share their middle grade memories with you.
Below is the first post in the series, by Marissa Burt, middle grade fantasy author of Storybound (and its upcoming sequel, Story’s End). Read on as Marissa talks about one of her favorite childhood middle grade books, Where the Red Fern Grows. Then check out her generous giveaway!
First, for those who aren’t familiar with the story or need a refresher, Marissa has provided a summary from Amazon:
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.
This was one of those books — the stories I couldn’t set down and instead finished in the wee hours of the morning. I remember tucking the flashlight back into its spot under my mattress and holding the volume to my chest, sobbing into the darkness. You would think it likely that a young girl living in suburbs of Portland might have a difficult time relating to a country boy and his coon-hunting dogs, but the drama of this tale and the powerful writing captivated my imagination.
I cried buckets of tears over Rawls’ masterpiece and reread the final chapters over and over, willing the story to end differently. I had read other books dealing with death before this, of course, but my animal-loving soul was struck by the finality of it all, especially in the face of the heroic courage of Old Dan and Little Ann. The themes in Where the Red Fern Grows are complex: the success of having worked hard for something good, the cruelty of the boys, the intensity of the hunt, and the heart-stopping moment with the axe are all woven together with explorations of human loneliness and the joy of animal companionship.
I revisited this book when I taught fifth grade, and I read it aloud to my class after lunch. This proved to be an ill-thought out choice when I found myself struggling to get through the final pages, my voice breaking even as I read the inevitable ending. I doubt there was a dry eye in the room, and the story stayed with us throughout the day as the children talked about death and loved ones and how that made them feel. I remember that the students’ desire to talk made me uncomfortable. I didn’t know what to say or how to listen and, for a moment, I regretted choosing that book for our read-aloud. You see, I had passed fully into grown-up land and felt the impulse to explain away the injustice of the story or at least to offer some sort of comforting platitudes. Looking back, I rather wish middle-grade me could have been in the class that day. What I really wish I could have done was to pass around the tissue box, sit down, and sob over the unfairness and ugliness of death and revel in the preciousness of life. This is one of the books crafted to make you feel things deeper than you can articulate or even fully understand, which might be one of the reasons why it is the perfect middle-grade read.
Marissa Burt writes middle grade fantasy and is represented by Laura Langlie of the Laura Langlie Literary Agency. She grew up in Portland, Oregon, and drifted eastward, living in Colorado, Illinois, Tennessee, and South Carolina, before coming back home to the Pacific Northwest.
Along the way, she studied Sociology, Ancient Languages, and Theology and clocked hours as a social worker, barista, 5th grade teacher, bookseller, faculty assistant, and reference librarian. But not all at the same time.
Marissa now lives in the Seattle area with her husband and three sons where she enjoys time spent around family, friends, and good books.
Marissa is giving away one copy of Where the Red Fern Grows and a signed hardcover of her middle grade fantasy novel, Storybound!
To win, simply comment below and share your thoughts about Where the Red Fern Grows. Did you read this book as a child? What are your middle grade memories?
For an extra entry, tweet about this post and include the link to your tweet in your comment.
This giveaway begins now and ends next Sunday, May 20 at 5:00 p.m. EST. The winner will be announced shortly thereafter. This giveaway is international.
EDITED 5/21: And the winner is . . .
Congratulations, Enbrethiliel! Please email me at clairelegrandbooks [at] gmail [dot] com with your mailing address.
Love Middle Grade Memories? Check back on Mondays and Wednesdays throughout the summer for more in this series!