Rascal by Sterling North (1964 Newbery Honor Book) was one of my selections for the Newbery Through the Decades Challenge – 1960s. We are a family who loves a good “boy and his dog” story. Or in this case, a good “boy and his racoon” story. I had a feeling that Rascal would be a treasured read aloud.
Sterling is a young boy living in Wisconsin during World War I. It is just Sterling and his father living at home. His mother has been deceased for several years, siblings are in various stages of life including his brother, Herschel, who is fighting in the war. With a love for animals and nature, Sterling has a habit of making wild animals his pets. So while in the woods one day with a friend, Sterling finds a baby racoon and brings him home.
June was the month! School was out, cherries were ripe, and all the boys and some of the girls went barefoot. Boys had many extra advantages such as swimming naked and wandering alone along the streams and rivers, casting for bass among the water lilies. Girls had to wear swimming suits and come in earlier from our evening games of prisoner’s base and run-sheep-run. I was very thankful that I was a boy.
While this book shares many humorous stories about Rascal, it is much more than that. We see a glimpse of a time when boys were expected to be in the great outdoors; enjoying nature, hunting, working, exploring, and building. We see a town that truly was a community despite the good and the bad. We see a bit of history from the eyes of a young boy.
Censorship made communication almost impossible in World War I, and Herschel’s letter merely sent his love and confirmed the fact that he was unwounded. I remember one sentence in particular because it was typical of his wry good humor:
“Send me some Paris garters, Sterling. They claim in their ads that ‘No metal can touch you.’ “
The fact that Herschel was still alive and unhurt, and that Rascal and I still had one afternoon before I must start building his cage, raised my spirits considerably. I made jelly sandwiches for the two of us, and we climbed the cleats I had nailed to the oak tree, taking with us our picnic lunch and a copy of Westward Ho.
I read this aloud in the evenings and my children all loved it. From Sam (3) to Bekah (16) everyone was ready to settle in at the end of the day to hear more. I asked my son, Caleb, 13, what he thought of this book. He said, “I really enjoy books where a boy is telling his story. You know, like the Ralph Moody books. Rascal was funny and enjoyable. I liked how at the end Sterling let Rascal choose where he wanted to be.”
“Do as you please, my little racoon. It’s your life,” I told him.
If you haven’t read Rascal, you are missing out on a treasure.