When author Sterling North suffered loss, his family was scattered and so, as you’ll see in “Sterling North and the Story of Rascal” by Sheila Terman Cohen, he reached for something very unusual.
Growing up in a small Wisconsin town in 1918, 11-year-old Sterling North had pets: a dog and a bird, a muskrat and a woodchuck. And that year — not too long after his mother died — Sterling had a baby raccoon.
With his mother gone, his much-older sisters away, his brother fighting in World War I, and his father at work, Sterling spent much of his time outdoors near the town of Edgerton. He was with a friend one spring day, in fact, when Sterling’s dog startled a mother raccoon, who hurriedly gathered her babies and moved away to safety.
But she forgot one kit and Sterling, knowing that the baby would die without care, fished it out of its den and took it home.
Rascal lived in the family barn, but he eventually ended up sleeping in the house, sometimes on Sterling’s bed. Like most raccoons, he was curious and mischievous, but Sterling loved his pet and patiently taught Rascal many things. For an entire summer, Rascal went nearly everywhere with Sterling and, that fall, he went to school, too.
Years after letting Rascal go, Sterling became an adult, married, and moved to Chicago, then Michigan, and then took his family to New Jersey, where he became a well-known writer of books, magazine, and newspaper columns. Still, he never forgot his love of nature, his boyhood, or the pet that gave him comfort.
Like many kids over the last 50-some years, I loved reading “Rascal.” Like them, I wanted my own raccoon. However, like me, your child will have to settle for “Sterling North and the Story of Rascal” — but before he gets to the good part the tale, he’ll have to work past a lot of filler.
Cohen adds bits about automobiles, Spanish flu, Thomas Edison, telephone operators, and more. There are many photos here, too, but most of them are representative or “similar to” what Sterling “might” have used, which made me feel cheated.
But will your child care? You know that answer; I can only tell you that this is an interesting supplement to the classic tale and may enhance its reading.
Just be aware of that, if “Sterling North and the Story of Rascal” is a book your 8- to 12-year-old reaches for.
“Sterling North and the Story of Rascal” by Sheila Terman Cohen [119 pages, 2016, $12.95].
Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was 3 years old, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill with two dogs and 12,000 books.