Friday, February 11, 2011

A Dog Named Old Yeller

When Mom was a little girl, her favorite book was Old Yeller, by Fred Gipson.  She loved that book a whole bunch, even though it made her cry at the end, and she still loves it.  I also think it's a good book, even in spite of the fact that the main doggy character is yellow rather than black-and-white, which is the best color for dogs to be.  Most people have seen the movie Old Yeller, but not so many people have read the book, and I think that is very sad because the book is really, really good.

Mom has only seen the movie once or twice because when she first saw it, she didn't like how different it was from the book.  Like, for instance if you look at the pictures in the book, you can see that Old Yeller looks sort of like a pitbull, and one of his ears got chewed off.  But if you watch the movie, you see that Old Yeller looks more like a yellow lab and not like the scruffy, cattle-herding frontier dog that he really was.  And that's why I'm not going to talk too much about the movie.  Mostly I am going to talk about the book.

Old Yeller was first published in 1956, when Mom was 4 years old.  Mom's mom was in some kind of book club, so she got an early copy of Old Yeller and started reading it to Mom when she was 5, which was the same age as Little Arliss.  Mom thought maybe this book was a first edition.  Except that when I was doing my in-depth research, I learned that the very first copies of the book had plain white endpapers, and then later somebody thought it would be a good idea to put a color picture there.  So Mom's copy has a color picture of Old Yeller saving Little Arliss from the angry mama bear.  Which is a really cool picture, if you ask me, and much more interesting than plain white endpapers.

Mr. Fred Gipson, who wrote the book, was born in 1908 in Mason, Texas, which is in an area called the hill country.  And this is the same place that Old Yeller takes place.  Mr. Gipson went to the University of Texas in Austin for a while, but then he left school and became a journalist.  In the 1940s, he started writing short stories and later he wrote a bunch of novels.  The first one that a lot of people heard of was Hound-Dog Man, which was published in 1947 and made into a movie in 1959.  A lot of critics and regular readers think this book was actually Mr. Gipson's best novel.

But his most famous novel was Old Yeller.  It won the Newberry Honor and got made into a film in 1957.  It was the book that Mr. Gipson himself thought was his best.  By 1973, it had sold almost 3 million copies, and it was translated into a bunch of languages.  There was also a sequel to Old Yeller that was called Savage Sam, and it was about the son of Old Yeller.

The illustrations in Old Yeller were drawn by a man named Carl Burger.  He was born in Tennessee in 1888, and he did artwork for several young people's books, including The Incredible Journey, by Sheila Burnford.  Mr. Burger worked for the Boston Post before World War I, drawing sports and political cartoons.  Then he joined the Army, where he also did some artistic stuff, and then after the War, he got into advertising and book illustration.  Also he painted some large murals for the Bronx Zoo and the New York Aquarium.

I like the pictures that Mr. Burger made of Old Yeller, so Mom helped me scan some of them.  We hope we will not get in trouble for this because of copyright stuff.  When you buy the book nowadays, you only get one of the original illustrations, which is the cover picture of Travis picking a thorn out of Yeller's paw.

Okay, well, you probably already know the story of Old Yeller, but in case you don't, it's about a boy named Travis, who is 14 years old, and he lives in Texas with his ma and pa and little brother, Arliss.  And it all takes place not too long after the Civil War.  Then Travis's pa has to go on a cattle drive to help take all the cattle to Abilene, Kansas to sell them, so he leaves Travis in charge of the farm while he  is gone.

So pretty soon this ugly dog shows up, and he steals meat and does naughty stuff that makes Travis hate him.  But then he saves Little Arliss's life when Arliss is almost killed by a bear, and after that, Travis starts liking the dog after all.  And then Yeller helps with all kinds of things like making the cows behave and running the coons out of the corn patch and marking the wild boars.  And he ends up saving everybody's life sometime during the book.  But then in the end, he gets bitten by a wolf with rabies, and Travis has to shoot him.  Which is the part that makes everyone cry.

Anyway, it's a very good book, and it shows how much a boy and his dog can love each other, and it also shows how Travis is able to do a very hard thing and start being a man, instead of just a boy.  Plus the book has a dog in it who is a wonderful, brave hero.

So I think everybody who hasn't read the book should run out and do that right now, and you should especially do this if you've ever loved a dog.


  1. I'm back....sorry I missed your last few blogs, but I plan on reading them!! I, too, LOVED the book, "Old Yeller." I had the book read to me and then I read it when I learned to read. I also saw the movie and agree with your mom the movie wasn't as good as the book. I seldom go see a movie if I've read the book - because the book is always better!! Oh - I think "Yeller" should have been black/white too - that would have been NEAT!! Time for me to sign off this blog and read what I've missed!
    Love, AP

  2. Hi Piper! My mom liked the book "Old Yeller" better than the movie, too. She says that about ALL movies that are made from books.. "the book was so much better" is a phrase I hear from her a lot! She says thanks for bringing it up, because now she is going to read it again!
    Viggo the basenji in MA
    PS- I think I am tough enough to do all the stuff that Old Yeller did, even if I am only 26 lbs!

  3. My mom agrees that books are usually almost always better than movies, so sometimes after she sees a movie she likes, she reads the book to see what got left out of the movie. Right now Mom is reading "Water for Elephants" because that is going to be a movie coming out in April. Mom hopes she is not disappointed in the movie because she really likes the book.

    Viggo, you are very brave to think about doing the stuff that Old Yeller did. I'll bet you could do that stuff, too. As for me, I will just stay home and take a nap!

  4. Dear Piper,
    I was going to read Old Yeller, I had the book myself. Regretfully, I didn't really feel like reading it because it was too long, it is a good thing I didn't any way because I get emotional easily! I guess it is a good book, since its about a dog AND you reccomnded it, so I'll take your word for it :)! Also, I think its great that you mention this book because now because of technology most people don't care about books now :( it is a shame we "modern" people don't care anymore! But you never know! One day this book could be famous or antique! I think it is old enough to be put in a museum! Anyways, pretty good blog! But I still don't get why the dog had to get killed because it had rabies!!! By the way, what is rabies??? Anyway keep on writing!

  5. Dear Tas,

    Well, if you get really emotional, you should probably not read "Old Yeller" because it is sad at the end. Rabies is a disease that will definitely kill you if you don't get treated for it, and back in the old days, there was no way to treat it. And one thing that happens if you have rabies is you lose your mind and you start trying to attack and bite everybody. Even humans do this if they have rabies. So anybody who gets bitten by an animal with rabies will get the disease because the germs are in the saliva and they go into the wound. Anyway, this is why dogs and cats now have to get rabies vaccinations, so if they happen to get bit by a wild animal with rabies, they won't get the disease themselves. Whew! That was a long explanation!

    Love, Piper

  6. you really do like to write. How old are you? is the question I have. love Irwin

  7. By the way Old Yeller is one of my most favorite novels I have ever read, love from Honduras- Irwin

  8. Dear Irwin,
    I am a little dog who is 8.5 years old, and I will be 9 in November. My mom helps me write my blog entries, and she is 59, which I think is really, really old! LOL When my mom was a little girl, Old Yeller was probably her most favorite book, so I guess you have that in common. And yes, I really do like to write!
    Your friend, Piper

  9. old yeller si cool


  11. Short books are good when you have to write a book report, but a well-written and interesting book is good, too. Which I think Old Yeller is!