HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Old Yeller
Author: Fred Gipson
Illustrator: Carl Burger
Publisher: HarperCollins, reissued in 2001
ISBN-10: 0-06-440382-3 (paperback)
ISBN-10: 0-06-073945-2 (special edition)
Related website: www.harperchildrens.com (publisher)
Language level: 2 (one instance of “O my Lord” as an interjection)
Reading level: Ages 9 to 12
Rating: 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Gibson, Fred. Old Yeller (published in 1956 and reissued in 1990 by HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York City, NY 10019). Travis Coates, fourteen years old, lives with his Papa, Mama, and five-year-old brother Little Arliss, near Salt Licks, TX, in the late 1860s during the days following the Civil War. Papa has to go away with other local ranchers to take their cattle to Abilene, KS, and leaves Travis in charge. Travis hopes that Papa will bring him back a horse, but before he leaves Papa tells Travis that what he really needs is a good dog. However, Travis had recently lost his dog Bell after it was bit by a rattlesnake and really doesn’t want another dog. Then this big, ugly, yellow dog shows up and steals some of their meat. They call him “Old Yeller.”
At first, Travis can’t stand the sight of Old Yeller. But he sure is a clever dog that can be a big help on the wild Texas frontier. He saves Little Arliss from a she bear. He helps Travis catch a wild turkey. He gentles their milk heifer Spot. And he’s good at catching the hogs that run loose to get them marked. Travis grows to love the dog. Old Yeller proves that he can protect Travis’s family from any sort of danger. But with the threat of hydrophobia (rabies) in the area, can Travis do the same for Old Yeller? One of my favorite childhood memories is the 1957 Walt Disney film based on this Newbery Honor winning book. There are minor differences between novel and film, but it really was one of Disney’s better efforts at turning a book into a movie.
We did Old Yeller as a family read aloud, and everyone enjoyed it. Yes, it’s a little sad at the end, but it has been called one of the best “boy-and-his-dog” books ever written. The Saturday Review of Literature said, “A bestseller for generations, the combination of excellent writing and the sensitivity to human emotions places it on a shelf with the classics in juvenile literature.” The only language issue is that once the phrase “O my Lord” appears as an interjection. Yeller’s puppy becomes the title character of the 1962 sequel, Savage Sam, which also became a Walt Disney film in 1962. Two other related books by Gibson are Curly and the Wild Boar and Little Arliss.