Format: Picture book (also available as a board book and audio book)
Author: Giles Andraea
Illustrator: Guy Parker-Rees
Publisher: Cartwheel Books (March 2012)
Gerald is a clumsy giraffe whose talents lie in the realm of “standing still and munching shoots off trees”; when it comes to physical activity, he is far less gifted. When the animals get together for the annual Jungle Dance, the warthogs show off their waltzing, the chimps get together for a cha-cha, and “eight baboons then teamed up / for a splendid Scottish reel.” but Gerald doesn’t even try — the animals laugh him off the dance floor. Through the unsolicited advice of a friendly and musical cricket, though, Gerald begins to listen to the sounds around him and the music of nature, and learns how to…you guessed it…
The message is a lovely one: “We all can dance…when we find music that we love.” The straightforward illustrations suit the simple text. Overall, it’s a fine read. I have few quibbles with this book, but quibble I must. Firstly, and you may feel free to call me nitpicky*, I’m tired of books, especially children’s books, that refer to Africa as though it’s one homogeneous country. Too many adults think that way; I believe we can do a bit better with our children. It would have been simple enough to set the story in a specific country or to leave out the reference altogether. Secondly, the rhyming and the metre are a little lacking. I may be biased as a book editor, but I feel strongly that the wording could have benefited from some polishing: “violin” doesn’t rhyme with “thing,” nor “on” with “song.” I take issue with near-rhymes and lacklustre metre in children’s books: these are the books that give kids a grounding in language, teach them what rhymes are, and provide their first examples of the music of poetry. Children’s authors shoulder a great obligation and I don’t believe the obligation was met here.
However, Gerald as a hero is hard to resist; my toddler and I do enjoy reading this book together. She loves to see Gerald dance. I want her to learn to follow her own music — and I really do love those tangoing lions.
- As a freelance editor, I nitpick for a living.