Posted by: Lizzie Ross | July 1, 2010

Coming-of-age, with aid of dog

Old Yeller, Fred Gipson (1956), Harper & Row, 158 pp.

It’s been a long time since I last read this book, perhaps as much as 30 years. I’d forgotten the narrator’s voice, the 1860s Texas hill country rhythm and patterns that are just right for the story of a thieving, rascal dog adopted by 14-year-old Travis and his family.

Few books can manage giving away the ending on the first page, but Gipson lets us know right away what’s going to happen:

I remember like yesterday how [the dog] 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.

By page 5, Travis’s Pa is out of the picture, on a cattle drive to Kansas, and Travis is left with his Ma and little brother Arliss. The dog appears one day, and we watch as Travis’s opinion of the dog shifts drastically, and how invaluable that “yeller dog” becomes for his family. Then, before Pa returns, Old Yeller is dead, and Travis is older and wiser.

Lots of action, lots of hill-country hard-scrabble farm life — a good picture of a small place after the Civil War maelstrom had scarred many of the states to the east.

It’s an old-fashioned story, and I wonder if my enjoyment of it makes me old. Yet I suspect there are still young readers who want this kind of simple realism.



  1. I have never read Old Yeller. It would be nice to have a summer vacation that would allow me the opportunity to read all these fabulous books! Oh well. I am still working on the Earth Sea trilogy.

  2. I can bring a stack with me to PEI next year, if we go.

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