HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era
Author: Sterling North
Illustrator: John Schoenherr
Publisher: Penguin Group USA, reissued in 1990
Language level: 3 (a couple of curse words)
Reading level: Ages 10-14
Rating: 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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North, Sterling. Rascal (published in 1963 by E. P. Dutton, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc.; republished in1990 by Puffin Books, another division of Penguin Books USA Inc., 375 Hudson St., New York City, NY 10014). This Newbery Honor Book is a fiction story that is based on a true account. North wrote, “All of my friends in ths book, both animals and human, were real, and appear under their rightful names. A few less lovable characters have been rechristened.” The events took place in 1918. North’s mother had died four years earlier, his two older sisters were grown and away from home, his brother was in Europe fighting in World War I, and Sterling North, eleven years old, lived with his somewhat absent- minded and indulgent father, a St. Bernard named Wowser, a crow named Poe, four yearling skunks, and some woodchucks in Brailsford Junction on the Rock River near Lake Koshkonong in Wisconsin. He and his friend, Oscar Sunderland, find a baby racoon, which Sterling makes another pet and names Rascal. The book chronicles their adventures together for the next year.
If children like books about animals, they should enjoy this one. And even if they are not into animals that much, it is a very interesting and pleasant story. The only discordant notes are two swear words (one in a foreign language uttered by Oscar’s German-Swedish father and the other something that had been written on a rock in the wilderness), a weak attempt to harmonize belief in God’s creation with man’s theory of evolution, and some “theological questions” that North’s pre-adolescent mind wrestles with. However, those issues can be easily dealt with. While our older son Mark, then about twelve, was reading it, he immediately came to me when he ran across the part regarding theistic evolution, and we had a little discussion on the topic. Other than that and the fact that he did not like the ending (while it was somewhat sad, I thought that the ending was quite natural), he said that it was good and that he enjoyed reading it. I think that we purchased the book from the Children’s Book of the Month Club, but I have seen it in several bookstores, such as B. Dalton, while looking over the children’s and young readers’ literature sections.