You may or may not remember Scuppers The Sailor Dog from your childhood. I didn’t but my son will. Scuppers, born at sea, is a sailor and the sailor is a dog. This short little Golden Book by the sad and weird (well, I get that feeling anyway) Margaret Wise Brown, taught me every thing I needed to know about reading to kids. The thing is, Scuppers teeters on the border of absolutely terrible, as far as kids stories go—unless!—unless, you can read it a certain way.
First of all, you have to be dead serious. That’s right you have to read a story about a sailing dog shipwrecked at sea as if it were the most important thing in the world. Sort of in the spirit of Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston or William Shatner—only not so cheesey. It’ll make it more fun for you anyway. Why do you have to be dead serious? Well besides not insulting your child’s intelligence and taste, it’s a good trick for letting the author’s emphasis come out from the page. Reading Scuppers like it’s important turns a simple and boring story into Robinson Crusoe.
Secondly, your rhythm is important. You can’t just blow through a kids book especially when your kid is at the age where they can’t read but can clearly see the benefits of it. Reading, at this stage, is a big deal. Anyway, one can’t just blow through Scuppers without feeling they should set the book on fire it’s so terrible. The tenses change from past to present (to put the story in the “now” for kids) and several pages are given up to long boring lists (without commas or any sort of break). But, find the rhythm of Scuppers, work with the mutt, and the story—this will sound lame—comes to life.
Finally, you have to sing any poetry you encounter. Or, at least, read it in an overly pompous, “life or death” manner. This is made surprisingly and frighteningly clear the first time you read Scuppers and come to “His Song” at the end. Yes, you will have to sing a song about a sailing dog to the tune of “Popeye, the Sailor Man”. And yes, you will have to sing it with salty gusto and life. Failing that, you must read it “Shakespeare” style (think Bill Shatner again). Why must you embarrass yourself this way? Because you love your kid. Get over it, it’s not embarrassing.
Get Scuppers. Learn how to read it. Embarrass yourself. You’ll make yourself and someone else very happy.