Too Much Temptation: RhyPiBoMo prep and Giraffes Can't Dance

Giraffes Can't Dance - Giles Andreae

Angie Karcher's Rhyming Picture Book Month (RhyPiBoMo) starts April 1st and one of the tasks is to read a rhyming picture book and a children's poem daily.  Yesterday I put some holds on some library books in preparation, and what do you know?  This morning about half of them were waiting on the library's shelf for me.  


Yoda: You must not read ahead!

Me: But I'll have to turn them in unread if I don't.

Obi-Wan: You don't know that.  Even Yoda cannot see their fate.

Me: But I can read them!  I feel the Force!

Obi-Wan: But you cannot control it.  This is a dangerous time for you, when you will be tempted by the Dark Pull of the Shelf of Library Books.


So in case you were wondering how my jedi resistance was holding out, how about I jump into Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae, illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees?  I will be good and save discussing the rhyme until April.  (Fingers crossed.)




Giraffes Can't Dance is a lively book, from the action filled rhyming text to the colorful watercolor and pen-and-ink illustrations.  There's a plot, there's a message, but mostly it's just very entertaining to read.


The main character, Gerald the Giraffe, is presented as a bit awkward in the beginning of the book--especially when it comes to dancing.  When he is essentially ridiculed off the dance floor, he slinks sadly off into the forest. A cricket appears and tells him "...sometimes when you are different you just need a different song", gives him a bit of a pep-talk, and starts playing the violin for him.  Suddenly Gerald has the ability to dance spectacularly and all the other animals adore him and are clambering to know how he learned to dance like that.  The book concludes with the idea that "We all can dance when we find music that we love."


What's nice is that there is a story.  Take the rhyme away, turn it into prose, and there is still a story.  Interpreted loosely the idea is that we all can be successful when we find the activities we love, but I invite you to pay attention to the differences in the learning / performance culture between the clearing with the cricket and the jungle party.  Instead of chaos, there is quiet.  Instead of dances with set moves and timing structures like the Scottish reel, waltz, or tango, he is doing improvisation.  Instead of music being played for the masses, here the illustrator has shown one musician, the cricket, accompanying him. Following the dancer's lead, if you will, at least in terms of location but by extension most likely also playing off the dancer's lead in terms of timing, intensity, etc.  It isn't necessarily that Gerald needed a different song or music he loved--it's more that he was actually in a situation where he was comfortable, didn't have the pressure of everyone watching him, wasn't being made fun of, and had a supportive helper, all of which combined together to allow him to feel successful about dancing.  (I won't get into the possible psychological game a teacher can create through crafting the illusion that different music, etc. will imbue a student with abilities he or she didn't have before.) 


A theme teachers frequently pull from the book is that of true friendship vs. fair-weather friendship, with the cricket displaying the characteristics a true friend would display (helping, being supportive) vs. the other animals (who appear to like him solely based on his new-found skill) but the support for true friendship within the story is relatively weak since there is no lasting relationship between Gerald and the cricket.  They appear to meet during the story and the encounter is that of a mentor/teacher and a student.  It's nice to think they become friends, but there is nothing written into the story or illustrations to prove it.  




As a separate project that's unrelated to RhyPiBoMo, I've been collecting a pile of picture books to draw out storyboards from.  It's a good exercise for studying layout and design. Random things of note:


- Giraffes Can't Dance has 11 double-page spreads and 7 single page illustrations.  The style is rich, vivid watercolor with thin ink outlines.  Many of the illustrations have a "glow" feeling to them due to all the warm colors.


- There's lots of previewing motifs that will latter have a bigger role and hidden animals.  For example, in the first double page spread there is a round-headed bear-like animal hiding in the grass and some of the monkeys that will appear later in the story.  Still using the first page as an example, the right-side edge shows the ends of vines and spiky leaves, a hint that the book is moving toward the jungle.  At the end of the story the animals shower him with flowers which appear in various prior spreads. If you look closely you can find the cricket and the red, yellow, and blue beetles on every single double page spread (great for stretching out re-reads with the kids!)


  • - Pretty much all of the illustrations are from a horizontal perspective or from a slightly downward but still pretty much horizontal perspective.  Two fun exceptions: a straight down view toward the end of the book prominently featuring Gerald's head and below that an airplane worthy view of the jungle trees, birds, bats, and creatures far below and dramatically curved fish-eye camera-lens view while he is listening to the cricket.


- The tips of leaves or leafy fronds poking inward from the edge of pictures allows the illustrator to keep the main viewing area of several spreads fairly plain while still making the location clear.  


- Poses are fairly dynamic. The ratio of dramatic poses to "standing and looking / standing and stretching poses is approximately 3:2 but among the standing and looking poses sometimes we only see parts of his body, the direction / size of Gerald varies, and the expression varies.   Dynamic poses include running, falling, being splat on the ground, walking dejectedly, dancing, somersaulting, flying, balancing on one leg, leaping, posing dramatically, and bowing.


- Blue is noticeably used for shadows throughout but a particular shade of periwinkle blue seems to be tied to particularly "sad" or "upset" pages like where he runs and goes splat and where he freezes thinking he's useless. 


- There's quite a variety in the actual illustrations themselves, however it is notable that four illustrations feature his head--and pretty much only his head as pretty much filling an entire page (although sometimes his head is split between sides of the gutter).


- For the edition I am working with, the 15th anniversary edition, the end pages feature dancing giraffes in orange and white against an orange background and the inner title pages do not feature Gerald, instead featuring monkey's doing the cancan, lions tangoing, and warthogs doing some kind of warthog dance.