Is Sam McGee appropriate for kids 8 and up?
October 16, 2015 7:47 AM   Subscribe

I'm going on a cub scout camping trip tonight as part of the campfire entertainment I want to recite Sam McGee.

I'm pretty sure it's OK, there's no cussing... The subject matter is burning a corpse, which on it's face seems a bit much for kids, but it's such a great campfire tale. Kids will be 8 and up... Any other ideas for cubscout campfire tales?
posted by joecacti to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I specifically recall this being read to us in elementary school. I'm pretty sure its fine.
posted by lookoutbelow at 7:54 AM on October 16, 2015

I think it'll be fine. You know the group of kids better than we do--I think my biggest problem if reading that to my older Girl Scouts would be them interrupting me every five seconds to ask what words mean or to say they need to go pee. Subject matter wouldn't even enter into it.

The kids will probably giggle at the word queer, FYI.
posted by phunniemee at 7:55 AM on October 16, 2015

I have an 8 year old cub scout, I just read it and my boy would LOVE this!! Knowing the kids in his pack well, I think it will be fine. I'm going to forward to Dad for the next camping trip! Thanks!
posted by pearlybob at 7:55 AM on October 16, 2015

In Grade 2 or 3 my teacher read us the Cremation of of Sam McGee aloud. As I recall, it was an illustrated edition, intended for that age cohort (8-10 years old).

There was a lavishly illustrated panel of Sam McGee in the oven, luxuriating in the heat with a big smile on his face, to accompany this stanza:

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar;
And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: "Please close that door.
It's fine in here, but I greatly fear you'll let in the cold and storm—
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it's the first time I've been warm.

So, yes. You're good.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:57 AM on October 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Awesome. I also just found "greasy grimy gopher guts" which is gonna be a hit I'm sure :)
posted by joecacti at 8:02 AM on October 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have a 10-year-old and a 7-year-old.* This poem is fine for your intended audience, in terms of the subject matter. The language and prose is probably what makes it a less-than-ideal choice for the younger children. (most eight-year-olds would have a hard time explaining what, "a promise made is a debt unpaid" means)
posted by Tanizaki at 8:25 AM on October 16, 2015

Response by poster: Maybe I can get some of the adults to act out the parts :)
posted by joecacti at 8:30 AM on October 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I first heard it as a campfire tale (around an actual campfire) as a wolf cub, so I would have been 8 or 9. Grade 3?

It was totally fantastic.

Dennis Lee has a bunch of poems that are similarly great (though not as narrative) for that age group. Here he is reading one of his most well known: Alligator Pie.
posted by bonehead at 8:49 AM on October 16, 2015

While yes, some of the language might go over their heads, they'll certainly get --- and love! --- the story. Kids in general, boys in particular, will enjoy the very low-key scariness of the poem.

Heck, these are the kids the new movie Goosebumps is aimed at, and that's a bit more in-your-face than Sam McGee!
posted by easily confused at 8:54 AM on October 16, 2015

I adored this poem as a child and still do as an adult. One of my all time favourites and I would totally read it to a group of eight year-olds. I also loved Service's "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" which I also heard for the first time as a young child. mandolin conspiracy's response just reminded me to get myself a copy of the illustrated book and I'd advise anybody and everybody to get a copy. The illustration he describes is delightful.
posted by futureisunwritten at 9:10 AM on October 16, 2015

Maybe ask the kids first "who knows what cremation is?" A crematorium? So they won't lose out on the meaning.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:23 AM on October 16, 2015

Awesome. I also just found "greasy grimy gopher guts" which is gonna be a hit I'm sure :)

You have chosen wisely.

I'll just leave this here:

The Cremation of Sam McGee - Read By Johnny Cash

I'm pretty sure this here is the illustration I remember.

One recommendation: The Other Day I Met a Bear. As an eight year old I thought it was great fun. It's a call and response sing-song that totally works a capella with a bunch of kids. Some audio here.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:49 AM on October 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I fondly remember my father reciting this and Dan McGrew on camping trips at that age. Service writes with such great cadence and imagery.
posted by thebrokedown at 11:00 AM on October 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Kids (and adults) don't need to understand every word of a performance. There was just an article about this in the New York Times about why there really isn't a need for modernized language in performances of Shakespeare. If you recite it well, they'll understand it enough to enjoy it. My mother read Sam McGee to me at about that age, and though I was an easily scared child, I loved it. It's a great piece, and I think it will be a big hit.
posted by FencingGal at 12:15 PM on October 16, 2015

I remember having this read to me in elementary school (Mrs. Brown, grade 2. so age 7?) I definitely didn't understand every word (the "marge" of Lake Labarge? what?), but the story, and, most of all, the rhythmic quality of the stanzas stuck with me for a very long time.

I remember when looking up the poem some 10 or so years later (see above re: sticking with me for a long time) being quite startled by the word "queer", which makes me suspect that Mrs. Brown had made her own substitution there to side-step the giggles. I seem to remember "these northern lights have seen strange sights", which makes me think she added that for bonus alliterativeness when reading to schoolkids.

(I didn't grow up with much poetry or literature in my life, and I credit Sam McGee with showing me that there existed "grown-up" poetry that was entertaining and downright fun to read, and especially read aloud. Thanks, Mrs. Brown!)
posted by btfreek at 2:20 PM on October 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

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