IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — More than 60 years after its initial release, Where the Red Fern Grows remains a literary staple in elementary school classrooms with more than 7,000,000 copies sold.
Author Wilson Rawls wrote the book in 1961 while living in Idaho Falls. But the book was almost never published.
Like the book's main character Billy, Rawls grew up in the Ozarks in Oklahoma. He had always wanted to be a writer, but with little to no education and terrible spelling and grammar, Rawls would burn his manuscripts and completed novels out of embarrassment so they would never be read aloud.
After a few run-ins with the law, Rawls moved to Mud Lake in the late 1950s where he worked for the Atomic Energy Commission. It was there that he met and later married Sophie Styczinski.
Shortly after they married in 1958, Rawls told his new bride about his desire to become a writer. She encouraged him to rewrite one of his stories from memory.
Styczinski helped him edit and publish that story, The Hounds of Youth, in just three weeks. In 1961, it was published in three installments in The Saturday Evening Post.
Later that same year, those installments were published as the novel Where the Red Fern Grows. However, the book wasn't a big seller and nearly went out of print. It wasn't until the marketing was shifted to teachers and students that it actually became popular.
After gaining momentum, Rawls and Styczinski traveled the country, speaking at more than 2,000 schools. He would always bring his manuscript with him as a way to encourage students to continue their education.
In 1974, the novel was adapted into a movie, with a sequel following in 1992 and a remake of the original in 2003.
Rawls died in 1984 in Wisconsin.
As a tribute to the late author, the Idaho Falls Library installed a life-sized bronze statue outside their building in 1999. It features the novel's main characters: Billy and his hounds, Old Dan and Little Ann.
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