Storytime pt. One, or Scrappy Jack and Books My Son Can’t Read Yet

pirate bookThere isn’t a boy in this world who can resist the siren call of adventure on the open sea. So when a pirate ship showed up in the harbor beyond the hill, the boy ran home, packed a bag, kissed his mother goodbye, and sprinted to the quay and up the gangplank, where he asked the weathered captain if he could join the crew. The captain, of course, said yes, and Scrappy Jack, at 2.5 years old, became the youngest pirate boy to ever sail with such a ragtag bunch of ne’er-do-wells as this.

Scrappy Jack has been sailing and pirating for well over a month now. And his stories — filled with mermaids and dragons and buried treasure and the smell of sea salt on the breeze — are already the stuff of legend (and a bedtime necessity) for my son, Regular Jack. I suspect that as Scrappy Jack grows up with Regular Jack his stories will become the sort of stories that I actually want to tell: mutiny and murder, cannonballs and bloodied cutlasses, stowaways and shanghaies, and terrors too dark to tell. But right now, they’re stories for a two-year-old who is scared of ghosts (or, as he calls them, “dhosts”) and are a little less exciting:

Scrappy Jack looked down into the water and saw a big shark with scary white teeth.

“Hello,” the shark said. “What’s your name?”

“Scrappy Jack,” said Scrappy Jack. “What’s your name?”

“My name is Archibald,” said the shark, “and I’m a nice shark. Will you be my friend?”

“Yes, Archibald,” Scrappy Jack said. “I will be your friend. It’s nice to meet you.”

See what I mean? That’s downright embarrassing, in an age-appropriate sort of way. Last night, Scrappy Jack fished a message in a bottle out of the foam and opened it to find a treasure map for a mysterious island. And the night before, a star fell into the ocean, so Scrappy Jack tied it to an arrow and shot it back into the sky. With his faithful dog, Luther, at his side and Sir Blunderbuss the Kindly Knight always ready to lend a hand, there’s no telling where Scrappy Jack will go.

It’s stories like these that make me think of the stories I read when I was a boy, and the stories I wish I had read. I cut my teeth on the Hardy Boys, devouring the adventures of those amateur detective brothers Frank and Joe Hardy as they traveled to Anchorage or Mexico in their teenage quest to fight crime. From there, I moved on to Great Illustrated Classics, a series of adaptations that distilled great literature into kid-friendly language and a picture on every other page. It was here that I first discovered the Great Stories: Last of the Mohicans, Around the World in 80 Days, Mutiny on the Bounty and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

After these, I eventually moved on to the full, unabridged versions of these books and others (I was especially captivated by the stories of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson), and I can’t help but believe it shaped me. That’s why stories are so important, particularly the stories we tell our children: The stories that Jack hears will shape him. They’ll inform his worldview and his ideas of right and wrong; they’ll give him a guide to help him make decisions about behavior and belief. I plan to elaborate on this in another post or two — why stories are so important and powerful, and what stories we should be telling our kids — but for now it’s enough to say that I think it’s important for Jack’s stories that the heroes be brave, the princesses beautiful, the dragons bad, and the danger real.

For now, though, I’m stocking his bookshelf with volumes that he won’t be able to read until he’s older — including a few books I wish I had read when I was younger. He’s got Narnia and The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Hobbit, of course. And Treasure Island and The Riddle of the Sands and E.H. Gombrich’s delightful A Little History of the World. He has Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga, and both volumes of Fin’s Revolution by A.S. Peterson, which has an ending more sad and beautiful than the final pages of most any book I’ve read. I wish I had read Fiddler’s Gun and Fiddler’s Green when I was 12 years old; my own son will.

But Jack’s not 12; he’s 2. So we’ll stick with Scrappy Jack at bedtime for at least a little while. Tonight he just might slay a dragon. Or rescue a princess. Or both. Who can tell?

Check back soon for Storytime pt. Two, in which I will explore why stories are so powerful.

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