Diana Duncan’s rhyming picture book Sam the Scaredy Cat Dog shows how a meek dog summons his courage to rescue his owner when bullies threaten her.
“Cleo’s dog, Sam, was as mild as a mouse,” the story begins. That’s only true, however, until Cleo is bullied en route to school by a trio of girls who “thought they were cool!” Seeing his owner’s discomfort transforms the sheepish sheepdog into a big, brave champion of his owner and with a few well-placed growls, Sam sends the bullies fleeing. But wisely, Duncan also shows young readers that real heroism lies in helping others: Sam shows his gentle side and becomes a force for good around the school by comforting children “when they feel in a muddle.”
Duncan delivers her message in quatrains of definite rhyme and strong rhythm that accompany each spread of pages colorfully illustrated by Lyle Jakosalem. The overall delivery is steady and keeps the pace lively.
A few problems mar the text, however. At one point, the author mentions a cat teasing Sam. Writes Duncan, “though Sam did his best to look really scary,/When he frolicked and rollicked he looked like a fairy.” Because “fairy” can refer to a magical being or a homosexual, this line should be revised to eliminate the possibility of it being read as insulting and inappropriate. At another point, Sam, fearful of a poodle, huddles “safe behind Mum/’Be brave Sam,’ she said. ‘He’s the size of my thumb…” The word “thumb” is a stretch in this context, clearly employed solely to complete the rhyme. Finally, the author’s style of using uppercase letters at the start of each new line, even mid-sentence, is jarring.
Nevertheless, the rhythm of Duncan’s work is consistent and appealing. This strength — and the message that it is equally important to be a lasting force for comfort and good as it is to conquer bullies — make this book a worthwhile read-aloud selection for young children.
Also available as an ebook.