Scuppers grew up on a farm, but he was born at sea, and so when he’s no longer a pup, that is where he returns. He gets his own little ship where he places everything exactly where it belongs and where he is contentedly alone. But he soon becomes shipwrecked on a tropical island. Ever resourceful, Scuppers builds himself a temporary shelter while he repairs his ship, and then sets out to sea again, making a stop in – is it North Africa?, the Middle East? … a country where dogs wearing full-length robes with only their eyes, paws and tails showing, carry pots on their heads; here, Scuppers purchases new clothes to replace his ruined ones, and then he goes back to his ship – where everything is placed exactly where it belongs and where he is contentedly alone at sea.
Margaret Wise Brown (prolific author of many classic books including Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny) wrote The Sailor Dog, and Garth Williams (illustrator of many classic books including Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web and the Little House series) illustrated it. As a child, it was my absolutely favorite book, and it has stayed with me since. “I think we are haunted by the books we read as children and the vistas we experience in a way that nothing else again will ever haunt us,” said Adam Gopnik (episode Re-Reading Children’s Books of the podcast, ‘The New Yorker Out Loud’).
What was your favorite book as a child? In what ways did it speak to you? As a child, I was not able to recognize what it was about Scuppers that I identified with, but, as an adult, it is clear to me: I am an only child and have always greatly valued being alone – it suits me, just like it does Scuppers; also like Scuppers, I appreciate things being where they belong – it adds a certain relieving clarity to life for me.
Much research has been done on the links between having books at home and being read to, and later language acquisition, literacy, social-emotional skills, and school success. (This is why programs such as Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, First Book, and Reach Out and Read, which make books available to families, are so important.) It doesn’t feel like too much of a leap to suppose that the favorite books, the books that are read over and over, also play a role in the patterns of brain development, just like reading does. The illustrator of The Sailor Dog, Garth Williams said, “…books given, or read, to children can have a profound influence.” As a parent, I think about this, and pay attention to what my daughter asks to read again and again – it’s an insight into who she is and will become.
By Margaret Wise Brown (born in 1910 in Greenpoint, Brooklyn; died in 1952 in Nice, France)
Pictures by Garth Williams (born in 1912 in New York City; died in 1996 in Guanajuato, Mexico)
Published in 1953 as a Little Golden Book