Saturday, January 26, 2008

Giraffes Can't Dance

Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae
Suggested read alone ages 4-7
Suggested read together ages 0-4

For a long time now I have been wanting to introduce self-esteem books to my older child. She is just three years old and I wasn’t sure how much she is aware of ‘self’ in order to grasp self-esteem.

Then couple of interesting things happened. One day she looked at me intently and declared, ‘Amma, I am brown. Appa is brown. My baby sister is brown. You are white. No Amma you are pink’. It took a while for me to realize that she was talking about skin color. Being one of the few desi kids in a white class room, she had some how picked up skin color and was applying her new found wisdom at home. The second incident was when we were laughing at something she did and we thought was ‘cute’. Oh boy…. she did not take it very well. She burst out, ‘No. Don’t laugh at me. Its not funny.’ I was convinced she knew about self.

Just as I was on the look out for a good book on self-esteem, this book fell in to my hands. One of the lead teachers at my school picked this book to read it for the four-year-olds in my classroom. After reading it to my class, I saw how much the children enjoyed the book and was sure it would be a hit at home turf. Even if the concept eludes my daughters, I knew that they would be sold because it involves African safari animals.

The story is set in Africa and it is the time of the African jungle dance. The lions are doing a tango, the chimps are busy in a cha-cha, the rhinos are doing a rock and roll and the baboons are doing a scottish reel. Now, our hero, Gerald is a tall lanky giraffe. As long it is standing still and munching shoots off the trees, he is okay. He can’t even run a decent distance without falling face down. When it comes to dancing, he knows that he has two left feet but he has no assumptions. All he wants is to have fun. But the minute Gerald turns up in the jungle dance, the other animals laugh at him, they call him names. Gerald simply freezes, all he can think of is his clumsiness. With head hanging low, he walks away from the dance floor. Poor Gerald feels so sad…and alone.

Ta-da enters a cricket. Now, the cricket is like the travelling bard, you see in Indian movies – he just happens be in the right place at the right time, all the time, offering chicken soup for the soul! The cricket teaches Gerald that when you are different you don’t stop dancing, but you just dance for a different music. Gerald closes his eyes, listens to the music in the air, the swaying of grass, the chirping of the insects, leaves rustling in the wind, the music in the breeze. His body sways inadvertently, his tail starts swishing, his hooves are shuffling, he is leaping and making somersaults….oh he is dancing the best dance of his life! By now all the jungle animals have gathered around Gerald and they all oooh and aawwh at the amazing dance and ask him how he learnt to dance so well. Gerald smiles and replies, ‘We all can dance when we find the music we love’.

I was amazed at the depth of the information packed in such simple phrases. Even without explaining my three year old tells, ‘Oh, oh, all the animals are making fun of Gerald, that’s not so nice.’ Every time I finish the book, I reiterate, ‘Do you just stop doing what you love, just because people make fun of you? NAAAH. When you do something with love and focus the same people who made fun of you will say good job’, driving the point home.

My kids have picked this book to read for our evening reading every day for the past one month. We have read this book to bits, literally! I am in the process of taping the torn pages before I am supposed to return it to the library! That tells a ton about how much the kids love this book….and also a little bit about how they need to learn to handle books gently The minute I get a reasonably priced copy of this book, it will be added to our home library.

The illustrations by Guy Parker-Rees is stunning. What are you all waiting for? Pick out this book from library/store and check it out for yourself.


Anonymous said...

Lovely Book. My son loved it so much that i read to him so many times and he asked me to tell this story during his bedtime. Thanks for your good efforts.

Anonymous said...

A teacher at my community college read this book to us. Even now, at age 17, this book helped me to remember to keep doing what I want to do, and forget about what the other people say. I love it.

Library Officer said...

I have just come across this blog via Playing by the Book and it is brilliant. We run a free library for blind children and adapt well known children's books with tactile images and audio descriptions. We recently published our version of Giraffes can't Dance as it is a great way to show the children that being different is a good thing.

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