JONESVILLE — The story of a boy and his dog and their efforts to win a dogsled race and save their family’s farm was the subject of a study by some Jonesville Elementary/Middle School students who not only read the book but made their own dogsleds and raced them.
“Stone Fox” is a short children’s novel by John Reynolds Garner that tells the story of a 10-year-old boy named Little Willy who lives on a potato farm in Jackson, Wyoming with his grandfather and his dog Searchlight. The story is set sometime in the Old West during a winter in which Little Willy and his family find themselves facing the loss of their home after his grandfather falls ill and the tax collector comes demanding back taxes. To save his family’s home, Little Willy decides to enter himself and Searchlight in the National Dogsled Race which is held every year in Jackson, Wyoming, with the goal of winning the $500 needed to pay the back taxes owed on the farm.
While Little Willy is the main protagonist of the story, the title does not refer to him, but is instead the name of the story’s main antagonist. Stone Fox is a Native American who resents the seizure of his people’s land by white settlers, his resentment so great that he does not even speak to whites. Instead, Stone Fox allows his skill as a dogsled racer to do his talking for him, winning every competition he’s ever been in and using the prize money to buy back his people’s land. Little Willy must bring an end to Stone Fox’s string of victories if he is to save his family’s home.
The novel, which is based on a legend its author heard during a visit to Idaho, was published in 1980 and sold 3 million copies and was made into a TV movie in 1987 starring Joey Cramer as Little Willy, Buddy Ebsen as his grandfather, Gordon Tootois as Stone Fox, and Belinda Montgomery as Doc Smith.
The story of Little Willy and Searchlight and their struggle to defeat Stone Fox and save their home was recently studied by the students in Mrs. Newton’s 3rd grade class at Jonesville Elementary/Middle School. The students read the book as a part of a novel study in which the students read a selected novel, and then go through it chapter by chapter analyzing and discussing the literary elements within each chapter and the novel as a whole.
After completing their study of the novel and the literary elements within it, the class then divided into teams which used different materials to build miniature replicas of dogsleds and raced them against them against the other teams. The winning team was made up of Reagan Mann, Shawna Crisp, and Carter Mullis.
The experience of Mrs. Newton’s class is a reminder that the novel, one of the greatest literary achievements of human imagination, can inspire not only intellectual development, but also hands-on creativity. This is why the ability to read and to analyze what is read and then apply what is learned in creative and imaginative ways is so important and why the classroom and educational programs such as novel study are so important. So congratulations to the young ladies and young gentlemen of Mrs. Newton’s 3rd grade class, may reading and learning from the things you read always be an important and inspirational part of your lives and the lives of your fellow students.
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.