Friday, March 27, 2009

Review-- Only Opal

Title: Only Opal, The Diary of a Young Girl
Author: Opal Whiteley
Editor: Jane Boulton
Illustrator: Barbara Cooney
ISBN: 0698115643/ PaperStar Book, 1994
Genre: Children's Books, Diaries
Rating: A

First Line: My mother and father are gone.

Thus begins the remarkable diary of Opal Whiteley, written when she was five and six. Born sometime around the year 1900, Opal was orphaned and raised by foster parents in Oregon. Opal's parents loved books and nature, and they passed these loves on to Opal. Her foster parents couldn't be any more different. Her foster mother calls her a nuisance, and Opal frequently has to miss school to do chores. Opal misses her parents. She is lonely. Her diary is the only place where she can be true to herself.

When I feel sad inside I talk things over with my tree. I call him Michael Raphael. It is such a comfort to nestle up to Michael Raphael. He is a grand tree. He has an understanding soul.

This is the first book I've read which so clearly delineates the inner life of a child in the child's own words. Feeling unwanted and alone, Opal takes comfort in the nature around her. Like me, she has a penchant for naming her favorite wild creatures, although her names are much grander than mine. (The male Gila Woodpecker who lives here has been named Gregory Peck.)

Editor Jane Boulton has done an excellent job of choosing the diary entries that make Opal come to life. Her decision to leave Opal's misspellings and grammatical errors lends verisimilitude to the book, and Barbara Cooney's brilliant watercolor illustrations are perfect for the text.

Although there is A Note About This Book in the back which tells how Opal's diary came to be published, I still wanted to know more. I found this website in doing a search, little knowing that a controversy has surrounded the diary for decades.

No matter which side of the controversy you may fall on, Only Opal is a poignant, wonderfully illustrated piece of writing that stays with you.


  1. Opal sounds like she was a wonderful girl. This book sounds like a treat.

  2. The pictures are brilliant, but the diary sounds so sad!
    Does it really matter when she wrote it, if people read it and love it? To me, literature and science are not the same, and they should not be judged by the same criteria.

  3. Great review and story of this child. Getting the story out is the most important thing!

  4. Dorte--I am in complete agreement with you. I wonder if Opal hadn't become ill, would there even have been a controversy?

  5. I first heard about this book years ago; everyone I know who's read it has been enchanted by it. Thanks for reminding me to add it to my TBR list--I've been meaning to!


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