Where the Red Fern Grows

So, while the children’s literature world debates whether a single appearance of the word scrotum is grounds enough to keep a book away from young readers, I am attempting to read an older, less questioned classic of children’s literature: Where the Red Fern Grows.

– In chapter one, I learned that if you find a stray dog with its paws worn down from countless miles of wondering, you shouldn’t take it home and put up “found dog” signs around town and try to find it a good home. You should offer it a steak or two, then send it on its way. The dog knows what it’s doing. If it wants to find its owner, it’ll find it, and there’s no need to intervene on the creatures behalf.

– In chapter two, I learned that if you’re going trapping with steel traps, and your cat accidentally gets a paw caught in one, this is funny. Rolling on the floor laughing so hard your chest hurts funny. Not funny to some misguided protagonist, but funny to his parents and to all his sisters, too. Even when the poor cat tries this three more times, and winds up with all four paws bandaged, we’re still supposed to keep laughing. Silly curious cat! The idea that maybe ten year olds who keep accidentally trapping the house cat shouldn’t be allowed to own steel traps never, for a moment, crosses anyone’s mind. They’re too busy laughing.

That takes us to page 15. If you were a contemporary 10-year-old, especially a contemporary 10-year-old who loves her cat, would you really keep reading if this wasn’t a school assignment?

Now, I understand why the disconnect occurs here: like many “classic” children’s books, this one was written for rural kids half a century ago, and not for suburban and urban kids today. A lot has changed in those 50 years, and it’s not the author’s fault the book doesn’t come across to us now the way he intended.

But still, I can’t help wondering why admitting a dog has a scrotum would be grounds for keeping a book out of the classroom, while condoning the active abuse of both dogs and cats wouldn’t be.

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