Title: Old Yeller
Author: Fred Gipson
Major Themes: Texas, Frontier Life, Dogs
Synopsis: When he is left in charge of the homestead in Texas one summer when his father goes on a cattle drive to Kansas, Travis doesn’t dream how a stray dog will change him forever.
Old Yeller is one of those books that never grows old. I have lost track of how many times I have read it aloud, but I don’t mind reading it over again every few years! This book is really that good. My children love it, too. The biggest problem we run into, though, is that the older ones remember the ending, and give broad hints about it to the younger ones. I caught my 8-year-old reading the last page one day because he just had to find out if his guess was right. It was pretty funny when he read the last sentence wrong and thought the opposite had happened!
Travis was left in charge of protecting his mother and little brother and caring for the farm in Texas while his father helped drive cattle to market in Kansas. He felt fairly confident that he would be able to do the job well, even without a dog, since his had died. Then, a thieving yellow cur showed up, yelling when he was scared. Travis would have run the dog off, except that his brother, Little Arlis, was in love with him. Slowly, Travis came to depend on the dog, who saved Little Arlis’s life, helped keep the raccoons and skunks out of the corn patch, and tamed a wild heifer.
Things were going fairly well…until the day that Travis and Old Yeller both got nearly killed by a mob of hogs. Even worse, while they were convalescing, a terrible disease began ravaging the area and the entire family was in danger. What would happen now?
The relationship between Travis and his dog is wonderful to read about. Old Yeller is one of the greatest dog stories ever. Travis and Yeller became very close friends over the course of the summer, and worked together beautifully. I also like the picture this book paints, of a family working together for survival. Mama is wise and resourceful, and Travis was good at figuring out ways of doing what needed done. There is also humor—the story of the bull fight is one of my all-time favorites! We always laugh so hard when we read that one.
WARNING: Sensitive children will very much struggle with the second-to-last chapter.
Read Aloud—Ages 5 – 8, 8 – 12, Family Read Alouds
Reading Independently—Ages 8 – 12