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December 17, 2014

How The Adolescent Stole The Grinch: Christopher Scotton on the Joys of Reading Books Aloud

Posted by Rebecca M

Despite being new on the scene, debut author Christopher Scotton is already receiving tons of buzz in the publishing world for THE SECRET WISDOM OF THE EARTH. It's hard to believe that Christopher, a tech-savvy CEO, wrote this impressive book in stolen minutes between managing several successful companies and a family. This isn't the first time he has found fame and glory through a book, however, as he explains in his Holiday Author Blog.

I was working my best Boris Karloff, and the kids at my feet in Mrs. Wells’ second grade class, especially my son, were a crescent of wonder and awe.

It had become a yearly tradition in our home, reading HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS aloud on Christmas Eve in front of the fire. My boys, four and two when it all started, squealed for it, and soon my performance became a fixture (dare I say highlight) in our extended family’s Christmas Eve festivities. Year on year, as the party grew, and the kid cousins multiplied, I perfected just the right Grinch-ly snarl; practiced up a perfectly sonorous, if slightly malevolent, Karloff narration; even took a few runs at Cindy Lou Who (who, if you remember, was no more than two). I was damn good, and these kids knew it!

When Mrs. Wells made a call for parent reader volunteers, I leapt at the chance to further develop my career as a performance artist. Who doesn’t yearn for a larger stage, for higher stakes?

I was nervous, of course…so very, very nervous. But it was the good nervous that all artists feel prior to an important debut. I centered myself, focused on my breathing…and began.

Yeah, I nailed it. Mrs. Wells’ kids went slack-jawed. My Karloff was pitch-perfect, Cindy Lou Who was plaintive without a hint of cloy. And my Grinch…well, in Whoville they say, that my Grinch imitation was legendary that day.

Later in the week, I saw several moms at a holiday party, and the reviews from their children were effusive: “Better than the cartoon,” one daughter said; “He did all the real voices,” another proclaimed; “He even looked like the Grinch,” said another. (Okay, maybe not the praise I was looking for, but it would have made Strasburg proud.)

I was on my in full flight. Word spread through the lower school faster than bad teacher gossip, and by next year my Grinch readings were stacked from the unruly pre-Ks to eye-rolling fifth graders just happy for a break from math.

And so it went as my boys worked their way up through the grades --- each Christmas Grinch reading more triumphant than the last. Sure, there were jealous looks from other parents in the drop-off line --- smirks from a few frustrated drama dads at the Christmas pageant. But I didn’t care…their petty bitterness meant nothing to me. I was savvy enough to know that success brings out the long knives in this business.

Savvy enough to know that success can also breed complacency --- it’s what the long knives live for. So I had to keep things fresh; had to keep things new; can’t rest on one’s laurels, you know. Many, many options and ideas to twist it creatively, to ramp it up to a new level. I could bring in a small chamber group for musical accompaniment. Perhaps train our uncontrollable Lab to play Max. Yes, yes…so many great ideas to generate new and necessary creative tension. Keep these lucky grade-schoolers on their toes.

When my oldest son entered middle school, I knew the stakes were higher still --- expectations at a fever. But I owned this! I’d honed my art on the toughest audience in the biz --- pre-K kids. And the best artists invite this kind of pressure --- it jangles our synapses, makes us feel truly alive. So I spent a week ruminating ideas --- bold, out-of-the-box stuff that Broadway would envy.

When I felt ready, I gathered my sixth-grader and his younger brother on the couch. “Guys, I want to spitball some ideas I’ve had for reading the Grinch this year. I’m thinking we could rent a confetti machine and go for a sort of life-sized snow globe with….”

My son’s face darkened as he interrupted me. “Dad, there is no way you are coming into the school this year to read that stupid Grinch book. NO WAY! Mom, tell Dad I will die if he does this.”

The room cooled noticeably as the warm air from my balloon escaped and was replaced by the cold unsympathetic wind of adolescence. And just when I was about to make the leap from grade-school Grinch-reader to the coolest Dad in middle school, my career as a holiday performance artist came to an abrupt, shattering close. I schlumped out of the room and took the dog out for a long walk.

My boys are in high school now and have moved well beyond the mortification wrought upon them by my public readings of HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS. They sometimes even look upon that old tradition fondly, with hints of wistfulness. But sadly, our Christmas Eve gatherings of late have been lacking in kids --- the house is brimmed on Christmas Eve with teens and 20-somethings.

But ho…wait! Good news from San Francisco this September. My cousin and her new husband just had a baby and are flying east for Christmas. Everyone’s tittering at seeing this tiny little bundle for the first time at the Christmas Eve party.

But for me…bring out the Grinch hat, dust off Dr. Seuss, crank up the confetti machine…let’s start with our breathing….in for five, out for 10; in for five, out for 10. I’m back!