Book Review of Rascal by Sterling North

What My Kids Read Reviews Rascal by Sterling North A reader requested a review of Sterling North’s Rascal, and I was happy to oblige! If you have a book that your children are curious about, but don’t have the time to review it yourself, or if you have a read a book that your family loved, please let me know! I have a link at the top of the sidebar to make it easy for you to send me any requests or recommendations. I try to review a mix of current bestsellers, series, and children’s classics in the age range of 8-14. So, please let me know if you are wondering about a book or series!

Rascal is an autobiographical account of an 11-year-old boy (Sterling North) who finds a baby raccoon and raises it until it must be released to the wild. It was an endearing tale, full of rich descriptions of wildlife and the woods and lakes of Wisconsin. Liam thoroughly enjoyed the book. It would be a great book to read out loud as a family, especially if your kids like books about nature. I think it’s a safer version of books like My Side of the Mountain or Hatchet.

Some parents might wish to be advised that Sterling’s father is loving, but busy (he is gone most of the time and described as a “casual parent”), and his mother is dead. Sterling questions why God let her die. He is never given a satisfying answer. There are a few allusions to evolution. The word “damn” is used once. Native Americans are referred to as “Indians.” Please click on the links below to see details of anything your family may find offensive.

The message of this book is a celebration of boyhood and nature. It beautifully captured the wildness of an 11-year-old boy, roaming the woods with his pet raccoon.

My Mom-Meter gives Rascal an overall safety rating of 2 (Moderately Safe) for ages 8 and up.

Click here to skip to Liam’s review of this book

Click here to skip to a Plot summary

Click here to skip straight to Potential Discussion Points

Category ratings (click on the category to see specifics):

Alcohol/DrugsSafe - no actual four-letter words

BullyingSafe - no actual four-letter words

Disrespectful AttitudesSafe - no actual four-letter words

GamblingSafe - no actual four-letter words

Gross BehaviorSafe - no actual four-letter words

LanguageModerately Safe - mentioned, but not glorified

Magic/SupernaturalSafe - no actual four-letter words

Romance/SexSafe - no actual four-letter words

Scary ThemesModerately Safe - mentioned, but not glorified

ViolenceSafe - no actual four-letter words

Plot summary of Rascal: ***Contains Spoilers***

I found a kid’s book report that has a thorough summary of the plot here.

Potential Discussion Points for Parents in Rascal:

  • You might want to talk to your kids about the ethics of keeping a wild animal as a pet.
  • “I asked myself how God could be all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-merciful and still allow so much suffering in the world. In particular, how could He have taken my gifted and gentle mother when she was only forty-seven years old?” You might want to talk to your child about this question.
  • “My mother…had tried to explain the story of creation in the Bible as a means by which a primitive and poetic people sought to record the beginning of things. This does not mean there is no God, she said, or that He didn’t create heaven and earth, darkness and light, and the seas and the land – yes, and millions of suns and planets, whole galaxies of distant stars… my mother explained how the plants and animals had evolved from simpler forms of life to the wonderfully complex flora and fauna of our present era.” You might want to take this opportunity to talk to your kids about what your family believes about the creation of the world.
  • Near the end of the book, World War I ends. “The world was now ‘safe for democracy.’ Tyranny had been vanquished forever. The ‘war to end war’ had been won, and here would never be another conflict. Or so we believed in that far-off and innocent time.” You might want to talk to your child about the history and significance of World War I and World War II.
  • As Sterling began preparing his traps for winter, he realized that his traps would catch animals like Rascal. “How could anyone mutilate the sensitive questing hands of an animal like Rascal… I burned my fur catalogues in the furnace and hung my traps in the loft in the barn, never to use them again. Men had stopped killing other men in France that day; ad on that day I signed a permanent peace treaty with the animals and the birds. It is perhaps the only peace treaty that was ever kept.” You might want to talk to your kids about what your family believes about the ethics of hunting and trapping.

Alcohol/Drugs:

  • A “saloonkeeper” tells Sterling that St. Bernard dogs carried “little kegs of brandy” in rescue missions, and never taste a “blessed drop,” and that is why they drool. He says that were “born drooling for brandy.”
  • The church janitor lets Sterling pump the church organ any time he “started getting drunk.”
  • Tobacco as a crop is mentioned a few times.
  • Sterling and his dad rush out to his uncle’s farm one night to help save the tobacco crop. There is a brief description of how tobacco is harvested and stored.

Bullying:

  • Oscar’s father calls him “no-goot son of mine” (meaning “no-good son of mine”).
  • There is a boy at Sterling’s school that bullies Sterling. “Slammy was the biggest, greediest, meanest twelve-year-old in town. We hated each other with a fine, soul-satisfying hatred born of many fist fights in which I was always outweighed and outslugged. But by boyhood rules you could never refuse a fight.”
  • Slammy, the bully at school, snaps a rubber band on Rascal, prompting Rascal to bite Slammy. Rascal then has to be caged for 2 weeks to be observed for rabies.

Disrespectful Attitudes: None

Gambling:

  • There are a few mentions of betting. “‘You just watch,’ I said loyally. But I wasn’t betting any glass marbles.”
  • There is a rumor of “some sort of wager” between two men, but it can’t be true because one of the men is a pastor.
  • Compares tobacco farming in “case weather” to “a sporting event on which each tobacco farmer was betting his whole year’s crops.”

Gross Behavior: None

Language:

  • Oscar’s father is heard “swearing in German and Swedish.”
  • Oscar’s father calls him “no-goot son of mine” (meaning “no-good son of mine”).
  • The janitor is described as “dim-witted.”
  • “Gol-danged” is used 3 times.
  • A man, frightened from a fast ride in a car mutters a “fervent ‘Hail Mary.'”
  • A pastor started “calling on the name of Jehovah” on a racing horse and called the man driving “you fool!”
  • “Gee” is said once.
  • After finding the stump of a tree that he had enjoyed playing on, Sterling writes on the stump (in all capital letters): “DAMN THE MAN WHO CUT THIS TREE.”

Magic/Supernatural:

  • A phosphorescent stump is described as “ghostly.”
  • Rascal loves riding in the basket on Sterling’s bike. Sterling refers to him as a “demon for speed.”
  • The boys in the area believed that the ghost of Black Hawk might be lurking in a cave.
  • Yellow pine trees are called “Devil pine.” Beautiful to see growing, but “useless to the carpenter, who calls this intractable wood ‘Devil pine’ because it cracks and splinters in every direction and refuses to take a nail without a tantrum.”
  • Two men have a rivalry about whether cars or horses are better. Each man takes the other for a ride, and one of them was described as taking “satanic delight” in the discomfort of his rival.
  • A man silently asks for the blessing of St. Patrick and mutters a “fervent ‘Hail Mary'” while riding in a speeding car.
  • A pastor started “calling on the name of Jehovah” on a racing horse.
  • There is a very brief reference to reincarnation. Sterling’s Aunt Lillie “said that when she dies she wanted to come back to the farm and do it all over again, because this was her idea of heaven.”
  • There is a “little black devil of a stallion” on Sterling’s uncle’s farm.
  • A rabbit’s foot as a good luck charm is mentioned once in passing.
  • There is a vague reference to the superstition that animals can talk on Christmas night.

Potentially Offensive Behavior:

  • Oscar “swiped” some cookies and coffee cake from his house to take on a hike.
  • Native Americans are referred to as “Indians” throughout the book.
  • Sterling questions why God allows suffering, and is not given a compelling answer.
  • Evolution is mentioned a few times. Sterling thinks that raccoons will evolve to humans eventually.

Romance/Sex:

  • Sterling mentions one of the reasons he loved being a boy in the summer is because boys could swim naked. The girls had to wear swimsuits (and go inside earlier). Nothing sexual is implied.
  • When Sterling’s father was 12 years old, he fell “slightly in love with a pretty Indian girl, so light-skinned and delicate of features that my father was sure she was more than half French.”
  • A forest is described as “virgin.” (Obviously, not offensive as a word, but it might prompt a search for the definition, so you might want to define that term for your child.)
  • Mentions Paris garters in a joke twice.
  • “It was rumored that in biology class we were going to learn about the facts of life that year. Most of us already had some misinformation on the subject, but I was very vague as to how little girls are constructed… What did puzzle me was how… Miss Whalen… could possibly tell a mixed class how babies are made.”
  • Toward the end of the book, there are a few references to Rascal being mature enough to want a mate. There is a “romantic female raccoon” that tries to reach Rascal in his cage. Rascal ultimately chooses to leave Sterling and chase after that female raccoon, “that entrancing female.”

Scary Themes:

  • Sterling’s mother died when he was 7.
  • World War I is going on throughout the book, and it is mentioned many times. Sterling’s brother, Herschel is fighting over there. Later, he writes that “casualty lists grew” and talks about the “shell-shattered wheat fields of France, red with poppies and with blood.”
  • Sterling mentions that a few years after the events of this book, he suffers from “infantile paralysis” and never ice skates after it. He says that he does finally learn how to walk again.
  • the “dim-witted” church janitor is convinced that German Lutherans are planning to poison the water. “”All they got to do is drop a couple of poison pills down the air vent and next morning we all wake up dead.”
  • Sterling is always afraid that his brother will be wounded in the war. He read a “crude but vivid book about the war.” He has nightmares about Herschel fighting in the war, “making his way through barbed-wire entanglements where corpses dangled grotesquely.”
  • Sterling and his father see a mama bear and her cubs while canoeing. There is a tense moment when they don’t know what the bear will do.
  • The town has an epidemic of Spanish Influenza. A story is briefly told of an elderly couple that drop dead of it while going to their well for water. Sterling catches Spanish Influenza and has to be nursed back to health by an aunt.

Violence:

  • Trapping and hunting are mentioned several times. Sterling and his friend Oscar set traps and sell furs in the winter. By the end of the book, Sterling has a change of heart and does not trap any more.
  • Sterling’s friend, Oscar, has an unkind father. It is mentioned several times that he might give Oscar “whippings.” One time Sterling says that Oscar might “get a licking” for stealing some cookies and coffee cake.
  • Sterling carries a pocketknife, also called a jack knife.
  • Oscar’s father “shot a coon.”
  • World War I is going on throughout the book, and it is mentioned many times. “Somewhere in that storm of lead and steel my brother Herschel was fighting.”
  • Shotguns and deer rifles are mentioned.
  • Some of the members of the church want to shoot Poe-the-Crow because he says “”What fun! What fun!” during services, weddings, and funerals.
  • Sterling mentions being dressed in fashionable clothes by his sister ad that it took a few fist fights to show the boys that he was still tough.
  • Sterling’s sister tells him threateningly that he was “not too big to spank.”
  • Hunting arrows, skinning knives, and spear points (all Native American artifacts) are mentioned.
  • After the raccoon, Rascal, gets into people’s corn, someone shouts “I’ll shoot him!”
  • Sterling read a “crude but vivid book about the war.” He has nightmares about Herschel fighting in the war, “making his way through barbed-wire entanglements where corpses dangled grotesquely.”
  • Folks in town threaten to kill Rascal.
  • “Slammy was the biggest, greediest, meanest twelve-year-old in town. We hated each other with a fine, soul-satisfying hatred born of many fist fights in which I was always outweighed and outslugged. But by boyhood rules you could never refuse a fight.”
  • Shooting squirrels is mentioned.
  • Mentions that, in the war, “men were killed up to the final hour” until the armistice was signed.
  • As Sterling began preparing his traps for winter, he realized that his traps would catch animals like Rascal, and then he sees a picture in a fur catalogue of a raccoon’s paw caught in a trap. “How could anyone mutilate the sensitive questing hands of an animal like Rascal… I burned m fur catalogues in the furnace and hung my traps in the loft in the barn, never to use them again. Men had stopped killing other men in France that day; ad on that day I signed a permanent peace treaty with the animals and the birds. It is perhaps the only peace treaty that was ever kept.”
  • Aunt Lillie remembers “the crushed arm of a hired man who had caught his hand in the ensilage cutter. The arm had been amputated….”

From a ten-year-old’s perspective: “I really, really enjoyed this book! It is similar to another book I like called Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat. It makes me want to go camping! If you like books that are about the outdoors, you will enjoy this.”

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Rascal (Puffin Modern Classics)
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