“Where the Red Fern Grows”, published in 1961, is a classic children’s book, written by Wilson Rawls and read by schoolchildren across the United States about a boy named Billy who walked 20 miles from the Illinois River to Tahlequah to pick up his dogs . The tragic story draws attention to the town of Tahlequah, and every year locals come out to celebrate Rawl’s signature work at the annual Red Fern Festival.
This year, the Red Fern Festival coincided with Independent Bookstore Day, sponsored by the American Booksellers Association. This helps local independent bookstores draw attention to themselves and allows small stores to compete with giant sellers, such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Too Fond of Books has decided to take advantage of the corresponding celebrations by organizing a special sale on Saturday, April 30. Hundreds of customers entered the store and 50 left with a copy of Rawls’ book.
“We started with over 50 copies of the book. We started selling them before the festival started because people were flocking to town. Today, as you can see, we have about three left,” Too Fond of Books employee Sierra Smith said just before noon Saturday. “We didn’t expect to go through as much as we did, as fast as we did. We thought they would last a bit longer.
For those in town who were unable to secure a copy, Too Fond of Books is placing special orders for pickup.
Smith said that even after half a century, the book continues to touch those who read it.
“The fact that the book is considered a classic and that so many children read it – the fact that it’s still relatable, a boy and his dogs, it gives people something to connect with,” said said Smith. “This book is still very much about that community.”
Norman Tokar’s 1974 film “Where The Red Fern Grows” brought Hollywood to Tahlequah, and many alumni were involved in its production, either as extras or in other minor capacities.
“They filmed some of it here. There are even more connections between history and community. It’s special,” she said.
Smith is impressed with the influence a book can have in such a rural part of the country.
“It’s great to see everyone relating to a book in the community,” Smith said.
Mark Watson is a Methodist pastor and father who entered Too Aim of Books. He was lucky enough to pick up one of the last books on the shelf before Too Aim of Books sold out. He moved to Tahlequah later in life, but remembers reading it as a child.
“I read the book when I was a kid, and I fell in love with it, and I’ve always loved dogs. The book really touched me,” Watson said.
He expressed his gratitude to Tahlequah for organizing the event, which reminded him of the importance of passing traditions on to the next generation.
“My son hasn’t read it. That’s why we bought it. We’re going to read it together,” Watson said.
At the front of the store, Valerie Reese, owner of Too Fond of Books, has set up a kiosk. where she was selling used books at 50% off.
“It’s a local party. It brings strangers into town. It just so happened that this year Independent Bookstore Day fell on the same weekend as the Red Fern Festival,” Reese said.
She said it was important to support local bookstores as they bring attention to local celebrations like the Red Fern Festival. They also keep money in Tahlequah.
“Independent bookstores hire people locally and the money goes back to the community. But more importantly, local bookstores form a community,” Reese said.
Too Fond of Books hosts book clubs and a high school writers group, where students can come together and improve their reading and writing skills. Too Fond of Books also hosts Meet the Author events where locals can connect with writers in Tahlequah.
“Go visit your local bookstore, and if you’re not from here, visit the bookstore closest to you,” Reese said.