Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era. Sterling North

E. P. Dutton & Co., 1963; Awarded 1966.

Synopsis: Wisconsin native Sterling North has crafted a memoir of his eleventh year, during which he cared for a pet raccoon named Rascal. Set in 1918 against a backdrop of World War I, the humorous story focuses on the close relationship of the boy and his raccoon and their adventures in the simple, natural world of rural farm country. With a mother who has died, a brother serving in WWI in Europe, two sisters who have moved away from home, and a father who sets few restrictions on the activities of his son, Sterling and his inseparable companion Rascal are free to explore the environs of Brailsford Junction: fishing, bike-riding, building a canoe in the living room. When Sterling introduces Rascal to the pleasures of corn, little does he realize what the consequences will be. After angry neighbors complain of Rascal's nightly raids on their gardens, Sterling is told he will have to build a cage for Rascal, but not until the pair have one last two-week escape on Lake Superior.

Themes: World War I; Raccoons; Pets; Friendship; Humor; Wisconsin Wildlife

Author information: Something About the Author, vol. 45, pp. 155-162.

Discussion Questions:  Standard 3, Benchmark 3
1. Several times, the author mentions the fact that his mother died when he was seven. How is Sterling's life different because of his mother's death? What changes do you think this caused in the way he grew up?
2. Was it right or wrong of Sterling and Oscar to take the baby raccoon from its mother? What did Sterling learn about taking a wild animal as a pet?
3. The subtitle says, "A Memoir of a Better Era." Was this really "a better era?" Why or why not? What things does the author think were better during this time period? Give examples from the book.

Activities:
1. Throughout the book, the author describes vividly the natural environment of his neighborhood, from his home in Brailsford Junction, to the farm of Oscar Sunderland, the wooded lands beyond, Lake Koshkonong, Kumlien wilderness, and the route to Lake Superior. Create a map of the areas talked about in the book. Consult a map of southern Wisconsin to see which of these landmarks still exist. Alternatively, students may draw a scene from the book, including the wildlife mentioned by the author.  Standard 2, Benchmark 4
2. The book is written as a memoir which focuses on the daily activities of the author's pet Rascal. Keep a journal of your own pet's activities and what you observe about that pet's interaction with the human and natural world around him/her. For those without a pet, observe the natural world around your home and neighborhood for a specified period of time, keeping regular journal entries of any wild animals, including birds and insects, as well as descriptions of naturally occurring features (e.g., ponds, trees, rocks, etc.).  Standard 3, Benchmark 1
3. Learn more about the behavior of raccoons, including the types of homes they create, the foods they eat, and their activities during winter months. Is Rascal's behavior typical of other raccoons? Whv or whv not?  Standard 2, Benchmark 1