by Fred Gipson
Old Yeller is about a boy's coming of age on the Texas frontier in the late 1860's. When his father leaves on a trip, Travis has to take up the man's work and protect his mother and little brother. At first it's routine: plow the field, chop the wood, shoot something for dinner. But then several accidents occur, and Travis starts to feel he can't handle it all. Luckily a big ugly stray dog shows up. At first Travis hates him for stealing the family's meat, but then he comes to depend on the dog for protection and assistance with the half-wild livestock. Old Yeller becomes his closest companion, and invaluable to the homestead. Unfortunately, the dog isn't immune to accidents himself, and when he gets bitten by a rabid wolf, Travis has to face shooting the dog he loves in order to save his family. (Revealed on page one.)
This is a really enjoyable book, in spite of its more serious elements. Told from young Travis' perspective, it's full of frank, humorous descriptions and funny moments. His little brother's antics are pretty hilarious too. And I loved the scene where the bull fell over backwards in a cart and rolled down a hill. My edition happens to be an ex-school-textbook, and includes a short, interesting appendix in the back that describes wildlife from the Texas hill country, and the longhorn cattle. Old Yeller has very similar themes to The Yearling (about a boy in Florida with a pet deer) and Where the Red Fern Grows (a boy in the Ozarks with 'coon dogs). All of these books show families living on small farms in isolated areas, the main character being a teenage boy who learns some harsh life lessons from nature.
Rating: 3/5 ........ 200 pages, 1956