Rascal, Sterling North

Booking Through Thursday: Firsts

This week’s Booking Through Thursday prompt asks “Do you remember the first book you bought for yourself? Or the first book you checked out of the library? What was it and why did you choose it?”

I’m not sure I could remember the very first because my mother took us to the library often, and when I was old enough to ride my bike there by myself, I went whenever I could. I was also a frequent patron of the school library.

When I was in elementary school, fifth graders had three jobs and rotated these jobs by class on a cycle. The jobs were Safety Patrol, lunch helpers, and office helpers. When it was our class’s turn to be Safety Patrol, we were responsible for ensuring the other students at our school could cross safely at the four intersections surrounding our school. The other two fifth grade classes were lunch helpers and office helpers at that time. We would rotate, and our class would next be responsible for either lunch or office. Lunch helpers left for lunch early and helped the cafeteria workers prepare lunches for the students. We had a free lunch on the day we helped. Office helper was my favorite job. I would be allowed to sit in the office and complete my school work for the day, and since I could work at my pace, I usually finished by 11:00 or so. Then I could read for the rest of the day (when I wasn’t delivering messages or forgotten lunches). The office staff would allow me to go to the school library to check out books.

All of this sharing is a roundabout way of leading up to a book I remember checking out of the library more than any other, and it’s a book I checked out and read in the school’s office. The cover was a nondescript brown, and to be honest, I’m not even sure why I picked it up in the first place. All that business about not judging a book by its cover and all that is nice, but we all do it, kids especially. The cover had nothing inviting about it. Inside was a wonderful story of a boy who made a pet of a wild raccoon and, sadly, had to let it go when he realized it would never be a tame animal. It was called Rascal, and it was written by Sterling North.

Rascal, Sterling North
A new edition of Rascal

Sterling North’s story of the raccoon he loved and had to give up moved me so much that I wanted to write him. He was to be the first author I had ever written. I didn’t try to write him until I was in sixth grade, and I remember asking the media specialist at my middle school for help so I could figure out how to do it. She was so enthusiastic. She excitedly pawed through some book that displayed writing addresses, probably literary agents or similar, for authors, and I remember how crestfallen she was—more than I was, truth be told—when she discovered Sterling North was already dead by the time I thought to write him. In fact, he had died several years before.

As an adult, I am quite aware that raccoons make terrible pets, and I wouldn’t want one. I wanted a raccoon desperately as a kid, and it’s Sterling North’s fault.