Giraffes Can't Dance

November 8, 2017

Now is the time on Sprockets when we dance!


The board book doesn't seem to be any different from the hardback.

I guess when taken metaphorically, the message of this book is a good one, and I think that's why it's been popular lately. But beyond that, it's not a very well-done book.

The main character is a giraffe named Gerald who is very clumsy. That's weird in itself, since giraffes are actually pretty graceful for their size. They look awkward, and the bobbing motions they make are unusual, but they don't fall over all the time. The book keeps depicting Gerald as falling over, but an adult giraffe that did that on a constant basis would very probably have broken legs.

Every year, there is a "jungle dance." This is another weird thing, seeing as how giraffes, lions, meerkats, hyenas, zebras, crocodiles, and most of the other animals depicted in this book actually live in the savanna and not the jungle. Maybe they just all go to the jungle to dance? At any rate, every single frigging animal can dance, except for giraffes. And not only that, but the other animals all come in groups of at least two, whereas Gerald is the only giraffe. He's the only singleton. As soon as he goes out to try dancing, everybody immediately starts laughing at him, not even giving him a chance, saying "Giraffes can't dance." What? How would they make that generalization if there's only one of him?

He is so embarrassed that he doesn't even try. He leaves, and a cricket who had seen the dance says, "Hey, you know what? Why don't you find some different music." Which, again, is strange, given that the music at the dance, although apparently supplied by wildebeest musicians, is quite varied in style. The rhinos are "rock and rolling." The lions are "tangoing." The chimps are "cha-cha-ing" and the baboons are doing a "Scottish reel." So why was Gerald not able to choose his own music, if all the other animals had different kinds? The cricket says, "Sometimes when you're different you just need a different song," and basically tells him that nature makes its own music, and then proceeds to contradict what he just said by getting out a violin and playing (although really, aren't crickets part of "nature"? Aren't giraffes?). Again, weird, since he's a cricket and could just be chirping instead of playing the violin (anthropomorphic stuff is so weird). I guess the cricket is the most awesome musician or something, because Gerald starts dancing and actually does a backward somersault in the air, which would be really quite dangerous for an actual giraffe. Though the animals in the book are anthropomorphic, they still are shaped like animals. And he says, "Oh my God, I'm dancing!" and all the animals who were at the dance come and watch him and say, "Gerald's the best dancer that we've ever, ever seen!" What? And then they all ask him where he learned that and he says, "We can all dance when we find music that we love." Again, what? Leaving aside the fact that the message is extremely ableist, there are some people that legitimately can't dance. There are people who legitimately don't have a sense of rhythm. So taking this message literally, it is completely untrue. Taking the message figuratively, I guess it's saying that you need to find your own unique place in life? I'm not even sure. "Don't make fun of people"?

What I wish this book had been like is, giraffes still can't dance, and it's okay. Why is it important that he literally dance? That's the thing that I don't understand about this book. I'm not sure what the dancing is supposed to be a metaphor for. It sounds super deep, but I can't figure out what it actually means. It's so vague as to be completely pointless. It's a vague, feelgood message that doesn't actually mean anything and has no real significance.

The rhymes are forced: "violin" does not rhyme with "thing." The poetry tries to have a meter, but it doesn't always succeed. The one stanza where I couldn't figure the meter out at all is: "'Excuse me!' coughed a cricket/who'd seen Gerald earlier on./'But sometimes when you're different/you just need a different song.'" Am I supposed to make "earlier" into two syllables? Is it two syllables in some other dialect? And "on" does not rhyme with "song." I guess it's a slant rhyme, but not a very good one. And it just ends up using words that just don't fit in order to support the rhyming. "'Giraffes can't dance you silly fool!/Oh, Gerald, you're so weird!'" "Weird"? What is "weird" about wanting to be like everybody else? And then in order to rhyme with "he was rooted to the spot," it uses the phrase, "Oh, I feel like such a clot." That's not a very common insult. I've heard "clod" but not "clot." A partially solidified amount of blood? I don't even know. A clot is just a clump of things. That's not an insult. The writer just used that word because nothing else rhymed.

The illustrations are okay. They're skillful, but not gorgeous or anything. Middle of the road illustrations for a children's book.


Giraffes can too dance!

Publication Year
  • 1999
Age Range
Age Range: 
Number of Pages
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Number of Words on Typical Page
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