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If there was a holy trinity of Anvilicious Death by Newbery Medal children's literature, it would be Bridge to Terabithia, Where the Red Fern Grows, and... this book.

Little Willy and his dog Searchlight live in Wyoming, and Little Willy's grandfather, though otherwise perfectly healthy, has come down with a bad case of losing-his-will-to-live. The reason? He owes the state $500 in taxes, and they're threatening to take away his farm. So Little Willy and Searchlight, despite having absolutely no training, decide to sign up for a sled dog race with $500 dollars as the prize money. Their main competitor is Stone Fox, a Native American man who never ever talks to white people and has never lost a race with his trusty Samoyeds. Little Willy and Searchlight place all their hopes of saving Grandpa's farm on the race!

Searchlight dies of a heart attack just before Willy crosses the finish line. Then Stone Fox pulls his gun on the rest of the racers and threatens to shoot them if any of them cross the finish line before Little Willy finishes carrying Searchlight's body across.

As the description suggests, this short novel (written in 1980 by John Reynolds Gardiner) is very much one of those books. It was, however, very popular. It's been read by millions of children (and assigned reading in many schools), and had a 1987 Made for TV Movie adaptation. Produced by Hanna-Barbera, no less.


This book contains examples of:

  • Death by Newbery Medal
  • I Am Not Shazam: Those who haven't read the book in a while tend to remember Stone Fox as being the name of the dog. No, she's Searchlight. Stone Fox is The Rival.
  • Instant Expert: Searchlight, despite having no training, instantly takes the lead in the sled dog race. Also despite, you know, being only one dog. She's only pulling a kid, but still...
    • Justified, as they are able to take a short cut across a frozen pond that the other, heavier teams can't.
  • Kid Hero: Little Willy certainly wants to be one, at least for his grandfather.
  • Magical Native American: The Stone Fox of the title.
  • Raised by Grandparents: Or so it seems.
  • The Rival: Stone Fox, again.
  • Saving the Orphanage: "Save The Farm" sub-variant.
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