Only Opal: The Diary of a Young Girl

by Barbara Cooney

Other authorsOpal Stanley Whiteley (Author)
Hardcover, 1994



Call number




Philomel Books (1994), 1 pages


A lyrical adaptation of the writings of Opal Whiteley, in which she describes her love of nature and her life in an Oregon lumber camp at the turn of the century.

User reviews

LibraryThing member meggyweg
The real diary of an unusual and gifted five-year-old living in an Oregon lumber camp in the early 1900s. Her diary was "adapted" by Jane Boulton, but I'm not sure exactly what this "adaption" consisted of. Boulton says she broke the prose down into free verse, but what else did she do? In any
Show More
case, this is a fascinating diary and the story behind it is fascinating as well. Opal lived in an unhappy home with an abusive foster mother, and her comfort and escape was in nature. She had many animal friends and gave them names like Felix Mendelssohn and Horatius, and wrote a great deal about her adventures with the animals.

No one's really sure who Opal really was or where she came from. She certainly was not an ordinary Oregon lumber camps child. Both her parents died when she was a toddler, and no one knows who they were, but Opal writes in the diary in French and displays great familiarity with classical history and literature and with the Roman Catholic Church. The afterword argues that she may well have been the daughter of Henri, Duc d'Orleans, one of the last members of the French royal family.

Opal reminds me a lot of how Anne of Green Gables would have been before she moved in with Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert. Both child and adult readers can appreciate this diary and its unique voice.
Show Less
LibraryThing member cathyskye
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
Show More
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.
Show Less
LibraryThing member kelleyhar
Loved the artwork by Barbara Cooney. Sweet, homey, calming pictures of trees, flowers,and life in the old times.
LibraryThing member juniperSun
The time of childhood innocence, when we are open to the essences of the plants and animals around us. Opal, orphaned, is raised by a family who completely lacks the same respect for nature that was inculcated by her birth parents. I'll want to re-read this whenever I need a reminder that it is
Show More
possible to know the living world around me--or, better yet, I should go walk thru the woods myself with observant eyes.
In addition to the diary, which was adapted and excerpted from what Opal published in 1920, there is the postscript written by Whiteley in 1920 and an Introduction and Afterword written by Boulton with information about Opal's life and the controversy over whether this was a true diary or a later creation.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Cheryl_in_CC_NV
I,personally, can't imagine reading this for pleasure. The author's note that gave more detail about the truth behind the diary makes it even sadder. Beautiful artwork and wonderful educational value make it worthy addition to every library, school or public.


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

11.25 inches


0399219900 / 9780399219900
Page: 0.407 seconds