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 a 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.
This book is based on a real diary written by a real young girl. I was amazed at her insights at such a young age. Poignant. "Opal Whiteley, born around 1900, was orphaned and brought up by foster parents in Oregon. These selections from the diary she kept in 'the fifth and sixth year' bring to life an extraordinary child..."
The illustrator is Barbara Cooney.