Robert Owens's Reviews > Old Yeller

Old Yeller by Fred Gipson
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really liked it
bookshelves: fiction, classic, classroom-library, dog, death, newbery-honor, coming-of-age
Read 2 times. Last read June 20, 2013.

The other day they waited, the sky was dark and faded,
Solemnly they stated, “He has to die, you know he has to die.”
All the children learnin’, from books that they were burnin’,
Every leaf was turnin’, to watch him die, you know he had to die.

I am a traditionalist. It’s not that new and different things aren’t okay, it’s just that there is something about why something is a classic or a tradition.

I recall reading Moby Dick many years ago. It seemed like a book that many consider the great American novel should be something one reads. I made it through some very good schools without having been required to read it so I picked it up one summer and enjoyed the tale of the white beast despite already knowing the story.

As an elementary school teacher, I have found that I often explain that students need to know certain things just because they are members of our society. Earlier this year it became apparent that my students did not know the story of "Hansel and Gretel". I did not have time at that point to read them the tale so I assigned it. A few weeks later we discussed the story. Americans should be familiar with this one.

There are others too. I read "Rip Van Winkle" for the same reason. Reading aloud to children models how good readers (assuming the teacher is a good reader) approach books. For me, the read aloud time each day is my favorite part of teaching. My students are very engaged during this time. We have read some wonderful books this year: Walk Two Moons, Dear Mr. Henshaw, Encyclopedia Brown, and The Whipping Boy.

As we were finishing The Whipping Boy, one of my students presented a book and asked if I would read this next. How could I say no?

Like many stories, I had heard of Old Yeller. Yeller was a dog and I knew he died. Yet, I never had read the book nor seen the movie. I am not a dog guy and such a story is not one that one that would really appeal to me so I always found something else to read. The night my student asked, I began reading the book so I was prepared for it. I have learned I do not handle tear jerkers well.

Chapter one, paragraph two tells the reader the dog will die and that Travis is the one to do it.

I remember like yesterday how he strayed in out of nowhere to our log cabin on Birdsong Creek. He made me so mad at first that I wanted to kill him. Then, later, when I had to kill him, it was like having to shoot some of my own folks. That’s how much I’d come to think of the big yeller dog.

What a great way to begin a book! This is an excellent book to use to teach foreshadowing. Throughout when events occur, we kept going back to that second paragraph. That helped provide focus to what was happening.

Along with each story in our anthology is a list of vocabulary words. It appears everyone of those words for Theme 5 in Harcourt Trophies is used in Old Yeller. Word after word, numb, mesquite, etc. was used. What a serendipitous story to reinforce what we learned.

We are at the end of the school year. This is when students should be able to use the skills taught to demonstrate their learning. My students shined. As we read this book over the last couple weeks, lightbulbs lighted above each student’s head as he made a connection that validated my work. When the buzzards circled overhead, my students told me that death was near. How awesome that these children can pick up on points like that! Reading this book with this class was a moment of the warm fuzzies. Those do not occur frequently enough for classroom teachers.

Many books that are popular now are good stories, but there is a casualness to them. Characters are coarse. Language is blatant. There is something about a classic that lifts one from the current style of reading. Old Yeller is a refreshing read. The richness of the text is a reminder of what great literature is. And that is what Fred Gipson’s book is: great literature.

Classics are classics for a reason. The story of Travis and this mangy yeller dog is heartwarming. More so, it is well-written and captivating. We knew the ending from the get-go, but it didn’t make it any easier to read once it came. Yeller was a hero and he had to die.

Don’t cry now
Don’t you cry
Don’t you cry

in the stars
don’t you cry
dry your eyes
on the wind

I read this again this year because I had a couple of advanced readers that needed some stimulus. I decided to include two guided reading groups to finish out the year.

This was not as rewarding of a read as it was five years ago. The students were engaged in the story and seemed motivated to read it; one in particular. His entire demeanor changed daily as we got into the book.

Our curriculum changed so much this year that the lightbulbs from above did not light as they had. That is a shame for the students.

Even so, they did delve into the story and read with purpose. The a-ha moment when they realized that hydrophobia was about and Travis had to kill Old Yeller was still magical to watch. Of course, it doesn't happen when they think it will.

My daughter has this book on her summer reading list; I look forward to reading ti with her.
29 May 2008
20 June 2013

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
June 20, 2013 – Started Reading
June 20, 2013 – Shelved
June 20, 2013 – Finished Reading
June 22, 2013 – Shelved as: fiction
June 22, 2013 – Shelved as: classic
June 22, 2013 – Shelved as: classroom-library
June 22, 2013 – Shelved as: dog
June 22, 2013 – Shelved as: death
June 22, 2013 – Shelved as: newbery-honor
June 22, 2013 – Shelved as: coming-of-age

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