Madelyn Rosenberg has written books for children of all ages.
For middle school readers, she’s co-written two books with fellow children’s author Wendy Wan-Long Shang about a 12-year-old half-Jewish / half-Asian protagonist in the 1980s, a boy and a girl: David in This Is Just a Test and Lauren in Not Your All-American Girl.
In fifth grade, she wrote a short story titled How the Raccoon Got His Mask. Below is Rosenberg’s story as she originally wrote it, including her cover with every word shaded a different color, as well as a typed version that’s slightly easier to read. But first, this intro from Rosenberg, where she recalls her fifth grade teacher, the original writing assignment, and the nascent career idea that the project sparked.
In fifth grade my teacher, Mrs. Sinha, asked us to write what I guess would amount to an origin story for the animal of our choice. How the Porcupine Got Her Quills, for instance. Or How the Skunk Got His Stink. I decided to tell the story of How the Raccoon Got HIs Mask. If I were telling it today, the mask would cover his nose and mouth. But this was the late 1970s and anthropomorphic animals had other concerns.
I liked fifth grade. I liked the teacher. And I loved the assignment. Mrs. Sinha stapled the pages together and I had a book. I don’t recall the writing of it as much as I recall my parents’ reaction when I brought it home. “You should write children’s books when you grow up,” they said. When I made a map of Virginia out of salt dough, no one told me I should become a sculptor. When I hung with my chin over the pull-up bar for 55 seconds, no one told me I should become an athlete. Or maybe they did and I just can’t remember. Maybe I received encouragement for every project, and their words about the book stuck because I allowed them to stick. Anyway, they never left my mind.
I became a journalist, and still in the back of my mind I heard, “You should write children’s books.” “Remember that story? About the raccoon?” My mother kept the book in the side table in the living room until I became an adult and had my own desk in which to keep it. The plot (raccoon wears mask to Halloween party, bobs for apples, mask shrinks) showed some promise, I think. The raccoon’s name (Randy) was a little less imaginative. But I stand by that story. And I did actually go on to write children’s books, the mantra “you could be” in my mind, piercing through the rejections that would come.
When I visit schools and the students ask about the first book I published, I still pull out that one, the first book that felt real, the first book of mine that other people read. I show my illustrations as part of my slide show, because I want them to know what kitchens looked like in the 1970s. But I also show them because I want them to know that what they are dreaming about at that particular moment? That could become their future.
How the Racc🦝on Got His Mask
Written + Illustrated by: Madelyn Rosenberg
Once on a crisp October night, Randy, a ring-tailed raccoon started on his evening walk toward Crayfish Pond. Randy scampered down the sandy banks of the pond, washed his paws, and settled down for a feast of crayfish, his favorite food. On his way home, Randy decided to check on his blackberry bush to see if the blackberries were ripe yet. Suddenly, it began to rain. Lightning flashed and thunder boomed. Randy took out his May-apple umbrella. Then, he saw a piece of paper fluttering in the wind. Randy picked it up. The paper read:
715 Pine Lane
8:00 P.M. — WEAR COSTUMES
ALL ANIMALS INVITED
Randy folded the paper and put it in his pocket. Then he went home, took out a thorn (which was used for a thumb tack) and hung it up inside his tree. Randy pulled down his blanket and went to bed.
He awoke bright and early the next morning and scurried down to the General Store. The store was run by a bird named Bernie. “What can I do for you today, Randy?” he chirped in his squeaky little voice. “I’m looking for a costume,” Randy answered. Randy tried on costume after costume but none of them seemed to fit him. Finally, Bernie suggested, “Why don’t you just wear a mask?” This seemed like a good idea, so Randy chose a nice black mask. Bernie rang up the price with his beak and put it in a bag. Randy picked it up and hurried home with his purchase.
Finally, the night of the party arrived. Animals from all over the forest were heading towards 715 Pine Lane. Randy put on his mask and followed the procession of animals to the party. When he got there, the party was already in full swing. Randy decided to go bobbing for apples. When he put his face under water to try and get hold of an apple, his mask got smaller and smaller.
Now Randy never realized his mask was shrinking so it came as a surprise to him when it came time to take off your mask to show who was who that his mask was stuck. When Randy found out he tried to think of a way to get the mask off his head. Finally, he thought of an idea. He went into the kitchen where a porcupine was preparing some refreshments. Randy strode towards the stove where a big pot of butter, that was going to be put on some popcorn, was simmering. Randy had read in a book that butter and grease would remove things that were stuck, so Randy stuck his head in the burning hot butter.
Yow! Randy jumped so high that he hit his head on the ceiling. “You ought to know better than to stick your head in a pot of hot butter,” the porcupine scolded. Feeling foolish, Randy went back to the room the party was in. He asked his friend, a monkey, if he would help him pull his mask off. The monkey tried to pull it off, but he couldn’t, so the monkey asked his friend to help, who asked his friend, and so on. Soon, all the animals at the party were all trying to pull Randy’s mask off. When none of them succeeded, a snake that had been sitting in the corner uncoiled its long body and slithered up to Randy. “Would you like me to get the mask off?” he hissed with an evil look in his bright red eyes. Randy cautiously backed away (and so did many other animals) and told the snake “No,” for Randy was thinking how much snakes like raccoons for supper. So Randy’s mask never came off, and he was stuck with it — and that’s how the raccoon got his mask.