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Boogie on, Gerald!
on December 29, 2003
Gerald the Giraffe is one clumsy animal. He's good at standing still and munching shoots off trees but when he wants to join the other animals at the Jungle Dance, they only laugh at him. Not for long, though. His friend the cricket knows how to play the music that inspires Gerald to dance like John Travolta in his best days. Gerald is transformed because "we all can dance ... when we find music that we love."
"Giraffes Can't Dance" is my personal favorite among Max's books. The story is familiar to many kids who go to kindergarten and learn that their peers can be picky about who belongs to the pack and who does not. In the book, the exuberant illustrations of Guy Parker-Rees take the sting out of Gerald's initial rejection by the other animals. Watching the Rhinos rock'n'roll and the lions "dance a tango that was elegant and bold," balances Gerald's sadness. The emphasis of the story is on Gerald's joyful transformation, anyway. Just read Gerald's jubilant "I am dancing! Yes, I'm dancing! I AM DANCING!" with enough liveliness and watch the kids identify with a flying giraffe. After all, the lesson is that you can excel and enjoy who you are even if, at first, the world does not play your tune. With a little help from his friends, Gerald finds out that "sometimes when you're different you just need a different song."
Let me add one short paragraph on Gerald's helpful friends, the cricket and the three small bugs that are hiding on every page. These four little fellows are an ingenious device to soften the impact of the emotional story. Kids are in love with details; once they know what to look for, they will tirelessly search for the bugs and the cricket, and point them out to you. Hint: play dumb and they will have a party.