CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 20 . . . .June 9, 2006
Tabasco, the Saucy Racoon.
Lyn Hancock. Illustrated by Loraine Kemp.
Winlaw, BC: Sono Nis Press, 2006.
168 pp., pbk., $12.95.
Raccoons as pets-Juvenile literature.
Hancock, Lyn, 1938- -Juvenile literature.
Grades 3-8 / Ages 8-13.
Review by Dave Jenkinson.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
I looked at my options. First, I could protect her totally by locking her up in a cage and making sure she stayed there. Neither Tabasco nor I wanted that. Besides, she was in much better shape than the scruffy-looking zoo raccoons we’d seen. It didn’t seem fair to let her run wild in the first part of her life then lock her up for the rest of her life as if she were some criminal whose only crime was growing up.
Second, I could drive out as far as I could in what was left of the wilderness and throw her out of the car to fend for herself. Lots of people do that with unwanted dogs and cats. These animals either starve to death or seek food, shelter and companionship from strangers who may or may not want to be bothered. I felt people would not want to handle a near adult raccoon, even in the Okanagan.
Third, I could let Tabasco decide for herself.
Most CM readers, at least those of a certain age, will immediately connect Lyn Hancock’s name with a pair of books that were published in the 1970's and which included the names of animals in their titles, There’s a Seal in my Sleeping Bag (1972) and There’s a Raccoon in my Parka (1977). According to Hancock, the manuscript for Tabasco, the Saucy Racoon was actually written in that same general time period, almost three decades before it was finally published. In the book’s closing section, “Aftermath,” Hancock explains the delay:
I wrote the story of Tabasco’s life in 1978, just after it came to an end. It was not popular in those days to end a story with the death of the hero or heroine. Publishers, parents, teachers, librarians, book reviewers and bookstore owners all wanted happy endings. They told me to tell about the good times and leave out the bad. But I couldn’t. You see, I write non-fiction and I believe I must tell my stories as they happened. I don’t make up endings in which a wild animal raised with people goes off into the wild where life appears to be perfect, where she meets a partner of her own kind, raises her kids and lives happily ever after.
In his book Lives of the Hunted, famous animal writer Ernest Thompson Seton writes, “There is only one way to make an animal’s history un-tragic, and that is to stop before the last chapter.” So I put Tabasco’s story - my diaries, letters, photos, tapes and the book manuscript - into a big box. For twenty-seven years I told stories of Tabasco’s life in hundreds of classrooms across the world, to thousands of children. But I always stopped before the last chapter. Until now.
Given that E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web (1952) a Newbery Honor Book, and Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia (1977), a Newbery winner, had long ago demonstrated children’s capacity for dealing with one of life’s realities, death, it is unfortunate that readers have had to wait so long to meet this delightful animal. Kudos to Sono Nis for making it available.
Spanning a little more than a year, Tabasco, the Saucy Racoon is Hancock’s story of how, at the request of Vancouver’s Children’s Zoo, she raised an orphaned baby raccoon. Tabasco, like her namesake, the sauce, added spice to life wherever she went, and she immediately had an impact on Hancock’s life as the author acquired Tabasco just at the point that she was beginning a cross-country promotional tour of There’s a Raccoon in my Parka, a book which dealt with Hancock’s relationship with a different raccoon, Rocky. Lacking willing raccoon sitters, Hancock took Tabasco with her, smuggling the week-old, one pound animal aboard airplanes in a toque secreted in the pocket of the shell of her Arctic parka. Hancock’s challenges continued when she returned from her tour as she lived in a “No Pets” apartment. Hancock’s university studies-related move to the Okanagan provided Tobasco with a slightly more rural setting, and it is there that she matured into an adult animal. It is when Hancock has to return to university that she must confront what she will do with the now adult raccoon. Hancock believes that she has found an excellent semi-wild environment in which to Tabasco will thrive, but the raccoon’s having lived her entire life in the company of humans proves to be her downfall. In seeking out human companionship, Tabasco is shot and killed by a man who later acknowledges having a grudge against raccoons.
Perhaps to make the book appear more contemporary, Hancock does not use dates, and, while the book is chronological in its structure, it is sometimes a bit difficult to follow the timeline. As well, because Tabasco is a very gregarious animal, she interacts with many humans, most of whom are named. Unlike fiction, where the plot normally demands that the characters be developed to some degree, most of the people in Tabasco, the Saucy Racoon are just bit players who briefly interact with the raccoon. However, the above two points are really just quibbles. Overall, Tabasco, the Saucy Racoon, despite its sad ending, is a delightful read filled with heartwarming anecdotes that will bring smiles to readers’ faces.
Each of the book’s nine chapters is introduced by Loraine Kemp’s full-page realistic style drawings of an event connected to that chapter. In general, the drawings are excellent; but I would question Tabasco’s illustrated size at the beginning of chapter eight, especially when compared with how large she appears to be at the beginning of the previous chapter. Hancock gives each chapter a title which echoes the title of her earlier book, eg., “There’s a Raccoon in my Neighbourhood” and “There’s a Racoon in my Apple Orchard.” Three pages containing eight black and white photos of Tabasco close out the book.
Just seeing the cover illustration will cause potential readers to fall in love with Tabasco and immediately want to get into the book’s contents.
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children’s and YA literature in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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