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Middle-Grade Books From the '80s That Are Still Worth Reading

Share part of your own childhood with these classic books from the '80s

Tina Cha
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Published on: October 16, 2020

Middle-Grade Books From the '80s That Are Still Worth Reading

Book cover: ‘Where the Red Fern Grows’ by Wilson Rawls

‘Where the Red Fern Grows’ by Wilson Rawls

This cherished novel recounts the adventures of Billy Colman, a young boy raised in the Ozarks, and the two coonhound puppies — Old Dan and Little Ann — he raises to become the best hunting dogs around. WTRFG was at least 20 years old when Gen Xers picked it up in the 1980s. It is fondly remembered by many for being the first book to elicit emotions and tears (also see: “A Day No Pigs Would Die” by Robert Newton Peck, another tearjerker). As it takes place during the Great Depression, the dated references are contained within a historical bubble, allowing your imagination to picture a time when kids roamed the woods all night long; journeyed alone on foot 30 miles (barefoot!) to the next town with nothing more than a gunny sack filled with a few supplies (and then walked back!).

One theme I paid more attention to as a grownup is the Colman family’s focus on God and prayer. Billy offers up many prayers, in ways that you would expect a boy to pray: asking for his puppies, for strength to cut down a tree and to will his dogs to make it through perilous adventures. Billy questions if the end results of some predicaments are indeed a sign from God. For families where religion or prayer hasn’t been discussed, this element may raise questions from curious kids.

The adventures are gripping and seemingly dangerous, and some of the depictions of violence, as well as the sorrowful ending may make this a difficult read for sensitive children, but the story is as unforgettable now as it was decades ago upon first reading.

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