Giraffes Can’t Dance Review

GiraffesCantDance_GuyParkerRees_305_392_80When children enjoy a particular book, it’s definitely worth investigating other works by the same author. Such was the case with Giles Andreae, as a favorite of my children’s is Rumble in the Jungle. At the doctor’s office, we immediately dove into Andreae’s Giraffes Can’t Dance, illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees.

The cover sums up what you are about to experience- a giraffe dancing in the moonlight underneath the title, Giraffes Can’t Dance. When I read to students in classrooms, I loved to ask kids to tell me about the cover (i.e., What do you think the book might be about?) and the juxtaposition on this cover will surely get their little minds going. Other questions to consider before even cracking the book open might be, “What do you already know about giraffes?”;  “Have you ever seen a real one?”; “What do you remember?” Activating prior knowledge about how giraffes are long, gangly, and maybe even awkward moving at times might help them empathize with Gerald the Giraffe even more.

The book is written in four-line stanzas and the second and fourth lines have ending words that rhyme. I do love a good rhyming book- as it keeps the story flowing and engaging. But, it’s not so fast paced that it feels awkward to stop in the middle and ask questions. Gerald’s emotions of frustration when he tries moving around by himself; sadness and loneliness when the other animals make fun of him; and peacefulness when he finally dances gracefully to the music found in nature all come through extremely well in these bright action-orientated illustrations. My sons really feel for Gerald in this story (“Awwww, he’s so sad.”), which I think is a great starting point for any young reader.

When Gerald cries, “I am dancing” Yes, I’m dancing! I AM DANCING!” I can’t but help think that Gerald is truly in the present moment. Whenever we are as engaged as Gerald so that we forget any worries and potential embarrassment, we are truly at peace. Thinking (or more like over-thinking) often has a tendency to paralyze us with fear about our potential limitations. By absorbing himself into nature and accepting the encouragement of a sweet cricket, Gerald breaks free of those limitations by forgetting they exist.

Setting limitations for ourselves seems to begin at a young age and stay with us through adulthood, as how often do we again attempt something we failed at or were laughed at trying in childhood? Probably never. Unless we actively do something about it, we continue to cling to these limiting thoughts and quite possibly generalize them so they prevent us from trying other new things.

Reading Giraffes Can’t Dance with your kids might help start a different pattern with them. Here are some questions to get the conversation going: How does Gerald feel when he first tries to dance?  How did the other animals respond (or What did they say or do) to Gerald at the Jungle Dance?  What could they have done differently to make Gerald feel welcomed?  How did Gerald feel leaving the Jungle Dance?  What things helped Gerald realize that he really could dance?  Why do you think Gerald chose to just bow after his wonderful dance instead of gloating or bragging to those who had been mean to him?

And then, here are questions to consider to link the book to their own lives:  Have you ever felt like Gerald did when he couldn’t dance? When? Gerald didn’t think he could dance at first- is there something that you don’t do well that you wish you did better?  This is also a great sharing time to talk about an experience you had at their age and/or presently when you didn’t do something well and how you dealt with that.

To take the discussion a step further, consider a question such as- How could you help someone out when they feel bad like Gerald did? Kids have the ability to express amazing sympathy/empathy and demonstrate great kindness, especially if they are given a booster at home about how to do it- because it is easier to laugh like the others are. As with most things in life, having a plan to do something makes it more likely to happen. We don’t expect kids to learn to read or write without support, so we shouldn’t expect them to know how handle difficult situations with peers without support either.

This book cover many topics, but remember to take your time and only ask one or two question with each reading.  Any of these can be fuel for a good dialogue between you and your child.  The point isn’t that they get the “correct” answers- it’s to help strengthen the bond you already have that you are a wonderful person to come and talk to when they feel like a “clot”, like Gerald (anyone “over-the-pond” will also appreciate that reference in the book). Because we all feel like that sometimes, whether we’re kids or grown-ups.

Personally, I’ll never forget coming home upset that “all the kids” were jumping off the tires on the playground in a way that I was too scared to do because many times growing up as the tallest girl in my class, I felt like a gangly giraffe myself. My mom and I talked about it, and then she walked me up to the playground as the sun was setting and had me practice over and over what it was I felt so insecure about doing that day.  It was a boost to my confidence that I’ve never forgotten.  I cannot even remember tire-jumping in front of anyone the next day, as I’m sure by the next recess the kids were onto something new, but I do remember feeling a sense of pride where once there was embarrassment. Sending that kind of message to your child isn’t situation-specific either- at least it wasn’t for me- and it still sticks with me as an adult when confronted with a new challenge.

 

 

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