When I select books to read aloud to my girls I usually have put a lot of thought into the book I choose. A few weeks ago we started Where The Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. Last year we The Summer of the Monkeys aloud, and after really getting into it, the girls loved it. This year, upon starting Where The Red Fern Grows, my daughters were instantly able to make comparisons between the two books. They could tell you that Rawls must enjoy animal stories. That his male protagonist (my words, not theirs) saved to buy a dog in one book and a horse in another. That none of his characters had any money and saving for these animals took a lot of effort. That the Ozarks was his setting of choice. Daisy was the name of a sister in one book, and a cow in another.
I read Where the Red Fern Grows a long time ago. In fact it has been so long that I barely remember it. I remember it is a dog story and it is sad. So, I mentioned to some friends that this was our read aloud. One of them was apalled. She has repeatedly asked me why I would read this to my children. She claims to love the book herself, but finds it excruciatingly sad.
A few nights ago we came to the part in the story where a boy who challenged Billy to a coon hunting contest manages to die after stepping on his ax handle, causing the blade to pierce his abdomen. My oldest daughter left the room for a while during our read aloud. She just couldn't listen to anymore. She did return, but knowing that this part upset her, I didn't really see how we could make it to the end.
Last night Billy's hounds, Little Ann and Old Dan, won the coveted gold cup from a coon hunting competition. I warned them that the book's ending is sad. I offered to stop reading where we are now and let this happy portion be our ending. My youngest daughter, at four, isn't really all that interested in this book, but the older two girls didn't think that was a good solution. They needed to know. So, my oldest daughter grabbed the book and looked ahead. And then she started crying. Two big tears rolled down her cheeks. And then she got up and went to her room and lay down in bed and cried.
I feel awful. I like (is that wrong?) that they are so involved in this book that they have some emotional reaction to it, but I didn't really mean for them to be so upset by it, either. I promised to pick a book for our next read aloud that isn't quite so sad. But at some point, I hope to have a conversation with them about how books - even sad ones- that make you feel so much while you are reading them, can still be wonderful, even if you do shed a tear or two. For now we still have twenty pages til the end. Tonight we will forge on with our kleenex at the ready and hope to finish this classic story.