Rascal by Sterling North
Read this book. Read this book aloud. It is a pleasure from beginning to end, with language that just demands to be savored. I cannot say enough about it, and have recommended it to everyone I know. I picked up Rascal by Sterling North from the 50 cent bin at our library. I have mentioned before our penchant for Newberry winner and honor books, and the silver medal on the front cover is the only reason I bought it. I put it on our read-aloud shelf because I thought it could augment our current US Geography or upcoming Man and Animal block nicely. I always begin a new book by reading the back cover, and after the summary was a review blurb from the Chicago Tribune, “Everyone should knock off work, sit beneath the nearest tree, and enjoy Rascal from cover to cover.” I couldn’t agree more. We were all enchanted by the first page. (OK, well, I was enchanted by the first page. The boys took until the end of the first chapter.)
Rascal tells the autobiographical story of a boy and his pet raccoon during the year of 1918. The geographical, naturalistic and zoological details alone would be enough to recommend this book be required reading for all 4th graders – Waldorf homeschooling or not. Sterling North paints a vivid picture of a boy’s small town life in Wisconsin in prose that is deft, tender and true. And although I loved every part of this book, the character of Aunt Lillie was my favorite. After the Spanish Influenza has struck Brailsford Junction, motherless Sterling is taken by his father to recover at the home of his aunt and uncle:
“Aunt Lillie came to greet us, wiping her hands on her apron in that perpetual gesture of humbleness which seemed to afflict whole generations of farm wives, who gave so much to so many in return for so little.”
And it is Aunt Lillie who tells young Sterling he should become a writer instead of a doctor:
“‘And then you could put it all down,’ Aunt Lillie said, ‘the way it is now . . . case weather, the fog, the lantern light . . . the voices of the men – hear them – coming in for breakfast. You could keep it just like this forever.”
Sterling North takes this request to heart and puts it all down with such an aching eloquence that I read the entire last two chapters with quaking voice and brimming eyelids. Treat yourself and your children to this book. It is a gem.
PS If you fall in love with raccoons like we did, here is a cute felt finger puppet to make.