Literature: Stone Fox

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 feet away from the finish line. Then Stone Fox draws a new line in the dirt, pulls his gun on the rest of the racers and threatens to shoot them if any of them cross this line, and allows Little Willy to carry Searchlight's body the rest of the way to the finish line.

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:

  • Bittersweet Ending: Willy presumably wins the money to save the farm and Grandfather gets better, but Searchlight is dead.
  • Death by Newbery Medal
  • Death by Despair: According to the town doctor Willy's grandfather is close to this, having lost the will to live when faced with the prospect of losing his farm over a hefty tax fine. Luckily, he recovers and is able to come to the race to cheer for Willy.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Everyone in the crowd is shocked by Searchlight's death, even the Jerkass tax man.
  • Eye Scream: After being hit in the face for going too close to Stone Fox's dogs, one of Willy's eyes is swollen shut for the rest of the story.
  • 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.
  • Old Dog: Subverted by Searchlight, who was born on the same day as the ten-year-old protagonist yet is still just as reliable and energetic as a much younger dog would be.
  • Pet the Dog: Stone Fox conceding his victory to Willy. In a more literal sense, he's very caring towards his sled dogs.
  • Raised by Grandparents: Or so it seems.
  • The Rival: Stone Fox, again. He's not the only other competitor in the race, but he's expected to be the hardest to defeat.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Stone Fox smacks Willy in the face when he catches the boy near his Samoyed dogs in a barn.
  • Saving the Orphanage: "Save The Farm" sub-variant.