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Giraffes Can’t Dance

by Guy Parker-Rees and Giles Andreae

Summary

Giraffes Can’t Dance raises questions about abilities, the abilities people have or lack, and how people discover them.

Gerald is a giraffe who is tall and awkward. He is best at eating leaves from tall trees. Gerald would like to be able to dance. When he attempts to join in the dancing at the Jungle Dance, the other animals make fun of him and Gerald feels he is useless. A cricket comes along and encourages Gerald to try to dance by listening to a different song. Skeptical at first, Gerald finds his song and finds he can dance rather well.

Read aloud video by Mrs. Rutland

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andrede and Guy Parker-Rees raises issues regarding people’s abilities. Gerald is a clumsy giraffe who would like to be able to dance, but cannot. The book provides an opportunity for students to discuss how they know what their abilities are. Students can consider why they want to be able to do certain things: sing, dance, play sports, etc. Are those things good by themselves?

Gerald, after being laughed at, feels embarrassed and dejected. He says that he is useless. This raises important questions for children to consider like what is the relationship between the activities they want to be able to perform and their own self-worth. Does being unable to sing or dance or walk even make someone a lesser person? Also, how important are those activities in general?

Gerald lacks the confidence to try to dance. The cricket encourages Gerald by telling him “sometimes when you are different you need a different song.” Students can consider times when they didn’t believe they could do something and how that affected their willingness to try something new. What does it feel like to have someone believe in you when you lack confidence in yourself?

Students may discuss how their ability to do something can look different than how they imagined. For example, maybe you imagine you will be able to do a cartwheel like a professional gymnast. And while you can do a cartwheel, it looks nothing like a professional gymnast’s.

Students can reflect on how they feel when it turns out they can or cannot do that new activity. What is it like to discover that you can read a big book after all? Alternatively, what is it like to discover that you cannot do something like dunking a basketball? Is there something good in having tried and failed?

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Abilities

Gerald the giraffe is clumsy, and thinks he’s bad at dancing. The other animals see him and his clumsiness and conclude that giraffes can’t dance.

  1. What was Gerald good at? Why was he good at it?
  2. Why did Gerald think he was bad at dancing?
  3. Why does Gerald feel sad that he can’t dance?
  4. Should Gerald feel sad?
  5. Is being a good dancer important?
  6. Should the other animals make fun of Gerald for not being able to dance? Why or why not?
  7. Is it right for Gerald to think that he’s useless because he can’t dance?
  8. If there is something that you can’t do, does that make you useless or worthless?
  9. Can you think of more important things than being able to dance? Can you come up with an example?
  10. Gerald assumed that because he was clumsy, he couldn’t dance. Is that a good assumption for him to make? Why or why not?
  11. The other animals assumed that because Gerald was clumsy he couldn’t dance. Is that a good assumption for them to make? Why or why not?

Overcoming Doubt

The cricket believes that Gerald can dance when Gerald doesn’t. He challenges Gerald to try something different.

  1. How does Gerald overcome his own doubt that he can dance? How does the cricket help Gerald?
  2. Gerald does not believe in himself, but cricket believes in him. Have you ever been in a similar situation, where you didn’t think you could do something, but a friend or parent did?
  3. When other people believe in your abilities, does that help you to overcome your doubts? How?
  4. Are there some things that you are good at right now that you may not be good at in the future? Can you come up with examples?
  5. Are there some things that you are not good at right now that you may be good at in the future? Can you come up with examples?
  6. Imagine that Gerald tried to dance to a different song and still was not able to dance. In this imaginary scenario, is there something good or valuable in trying even if he failed?
  7. In the end, why was Gerald able to dance?

Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our Resources page.

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As one of the largest collegiate ethics institutes in the country, the Prindle Institute for Ethics’ uniquely robust national outreach mission serves DePauw students, faculty and staff; academics and scholars throughout the United States and in the international community; life-long learners; and the Greencastle community in a variety of ways. In 2019, the Prindle Institute partrnered with Thomas Wartenberg and became the digital home of his Teaching Children Philosophy discussion guides.

Further Resources

Some of the books on this site may contain characterizations or illustrations that are culturally insensitive or inaccurate. We encourage educators to visit the Association for Library Service to Children’s resource guide for talking to children about issues of race and culture in literature. They also have a guide for navigating tough conversations.  PBS Kids’ set of resources for talking to young children about race and racism might also be useful for educators.

Philosophy often deals with big questions like the existence of a higher power or death. Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our resources page.

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