Rascal by Sterling North is a delightful tale about an 11 year old boy who raises a baby raccoon. A 1964 Newbery Honor Book, this book is based off the author’s real life year with a raccoon. Sterling is out with his friend in the woods when he scares a raccoon family and one baby is left behind. He keeps this baby, Rascal, and raises it. The boy’s mother has died, leaving just the boy and his father, who is a lawyer and is gone all the time. The book takes place in 1918, near the end of World War I.
Sterling is alone most of the time and Rascal and the other pets on the farm serve as his companions. He takes Rascal everywhere with him, and they have many adventures. Rascal sleeps with Sterling and helps Sterling fish. The family goes on vacation for two weeks and Sterling and the boy spend the entire time playing in the woods while his father works. He is building a canoe in the living room (hard to imagine these days kids getting away with that) and basically takes care of himself. As Rascal grows, however, he gets in trouble with the neighbors for eating their crops.
When Rascal is around a year old, the boy makes a decision to release him back to the wild, so he won’t be shot by the neighbors. He paddles the raccoon far away and watches him as he meets a female and leaves.
Like Adam of the Road, this book has much historical value. It speaks of a time where kids had to entertain themselves and played in the woods all day long. A time when kids were routinely left alone and had to feed themselves. A time where having a pet raccoon was no big deal. A simpler time, indeed.
There is one part of Rascal (the very beginning) where my kids and I almost quit reading. It’s how Sterling got the baby raccoon. Basically, they come across a raccoon family hiding. The mother climbs a tree, and Sterling and his friend decide to chase the mother raccoon up the tree. One boy climbs the tree and cuts down the limb where the mother raccoon is hiding. She falls and runs off, but only 3 babies follow her, leaving the 4th behind who could have died if Sterling hadn’t have raised it. This part was cruel and hard to read as the boys didn’t really care — all Sterling wanted was a pet raccoon.
If you can get over the part of how he gets the raccoon, you won’t be disappointed by the rest. Overall, Rascal is recommended for the story of a lonely boy and his pet raccoon, which you’d be hard pressed to find such a relationship these days.