Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Elephants Cannot Dance...but Mo Willems Can?

Because I'm an aspiring picture book author and also the mother of two young children who adore picture books, it is probably an understatement to say that picture books occupy a lot of my time.    

I don't think a day goes by when I'm not reading picture books, trying to write picture books, or at least thinking about picture books. And without a lot of spare time these days, other types of books just haven't been finding their way into my life (at least not as often as I would like). So what was I going to do if my girls ever wanted to read something other than a picture book? I had no idea!

Well, now I know that there are some great blogs out there, like The Cath in the Hat, that focus on early readers and beginning chapter books. But before I was linked into the blogging community, I was pretty much on my own. So...

About this time last year, when my then five-year-old was just starting to get the hang of reading, I was hanging out at a local book store when a display of Elephant & Piggie books caught my eye. What?!? I of course knew that Mo Willems wrote picture books, but early readers, too? It was my lucky day!

I picked up a copy of Can I Play Too? and took it home to my daughter. She loved the simple text and the funny--in the laugh-out-loud kind of way--story. In fact, I had never heard her laugh so hard because of a book, so I was immediately sold on the series. The very next Elephant & Piggie book we bought? You guessed it...Elephants Cannot Dance!

Elephants Cannot Dance?

As you may know, Gerald is an Elephant and Piggie is...well, a pig. Although they have opposite personalities, they are the best of friends. In Elephants Cannot Dance!, a tutu-clad Piggie convinces Gerald to try dancing, even though Gerald is positive that elephants cannot dance.

© Marty Umans
Gerald changes into his orange and yellow aerobics outfit (reminiscent of the 1980's, headband and all), and is all ready to go. However, it appears at first that Gerald may have been on to something. His aptitude for dance is not the greatest. Piggie tells him to go forward, and Gerald goes backward. Piggie says stop, and Gerald keeps spinning.

Gerald keeps trying and trying and trying, eventually getting frustrated...and then sad...that he isn't getting it right. Is there anyone who can cheer Gerald up? You'll have to read the book to find out...and to see if Gerald's dancing improves.

As with other books from this series, the dialogue in Elephants Cannot Dance! is written in balloons (gray ones for Gerald and pink ones for Piggie), so it is easy for kids to follow along and know who's talking. And the illustrations, with their simple physical humor, are hilarious!

Can Mo Willems Dance?

Well, unfortunately I don't know the answer to this burning question. But I do have a sneaking suspicion that Mo Willems can dance....or at least has a special place in his heart for those who do. Here is some circumstantial evidence. You be the judge... 
  • After all, Mo Willems did create a book about dance, when he just as easily could have written a book called Elephants Cannot Cook! or something along those lines. And people always say that writers put a little bit of themselves into each of their books, right?
  • While my older daughter loves Elephant & Piggie books, my younger daughter loves the Cat the Cat series. On one page of Cat the Cat Who Is That?, Cat the Cat has her arms over her head in a classic ballet fifth position. And just a few pages later, there she is again, up on her tippy toes in a proper third arabesque. Hmmm...
  • And, believe it or not, what I am about to tell you is the truth...Mo Willems has been in The Nutcracker! Here is the proof. Wow!   

An Interactive Dance Game

Of all 14 Elephant & Piggie books, Elephants Cannot Dance! is the only one with its own interactive game on the Internet. Kids get to choose from a bunch of dances--like the Funky Trunky, the Piggie Jiggie, and the Shakin' Bacon to name a few--and watch Gerald and Piggie dance them out on the screen. Thanks, BookDads, for letting me know about this fun activity!

For those who are interested, there's also a great teacher's guide and event kit for the Elephant & Piggie series. It includes discussion topics for all 14 books, activities for circle time, coloring pages, and lots more.

To read more reviews of children's books (or to post your own), visit Book Talk Tuesday at Lemme Library. It's a great place to find material appropriate for the classroom and the home, especially for kids in kindergarten through eighth grade.

If you want to read reviews of more easy readers, check out the April 2011 I Can Read Carnival at Jean Little Library!


  1. I love the Elephant and Piggie series. I thought I had read them all, but I seem to have missed this one. It might be fun to pair this book with the wonderful non-fiction picture book BALLET OF THE ELEPHANTS by Leda Schubert.

  2. Hi, Bigfoot. Thanks for coming by! I've been meaning to read Ballet of the Elephants for a while, but I haven't been able to get my hands on a copy yet. That's a great idea to pair a fiction book and a nonfiction book. Who knew so many elephants could dance!

  3. And apparently dogs, too. Violet, from our reading group, loves a picture book called DOGS DON'T DO BALLET by Anna Kemp.

  4. Ooh, that's another one I've heard and really really want to read. (As you might be able to tell, I have a very long list of books I want to read.) There's another one called Giraffes Can't Dance (by Giles Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees). And that one I've actually read!

  5. I just put that one on hold at the library. Thanks!

  6. What a lovely combination, dance and picture books.

    We have Giraffes Can't Dance, that one is fun.

  7. Hey Kerry,

    Thanks for the mention. My daughter and I were just fooling around recently with the Elephant and Piggie Dance game. As you know, we're HUGE fans of Mo Willems and Elephant and Piggie. This is one of our favorites as my daughter loves to dance and it was one of the first "verbs" she learned.

    Great post!!

  8. Thanks, Chris. I've been meaning to write a post about this book for a while, and finding out about the dance game pushed me to finally do it. I love it that your daughter loves to dance. I had so much fun talking Mo Willems and picture books with on Twitter last night, too!

  9. My 8 year old somehow missed out on the Elephant & Piggie books, but both boys loved Mo's Pigeon books. Did you get him to sign anything at SCBWI NYC?

    But I will personally have to look for Elephants Cannot Dance because I, too, love dance!

  10. Hi, Brooke. Thanks or stopping by! I actually had him sign a couple of Pigeon books at the conference...one for my kids (and me) and one for my kindergartner's teacher. He was at the ALA conference in DC last year, too, and I had him sign Cat the Cat Who Is That? and We Are in a Book! I am almost a groupie :)

  11. Hi, Roberta. Thanks for stopping by a few days ago. Meant to tell you that we have Giraffes Can't Dance, too. Was just looking at it the other day!

  12. The April I Can Read Carnival is up! Thanks for contributing!

  13. Thanks, Jennifer. I'll go check it out!!

  14. Thanks so much for sharing that Mo Willems has played Mother Ginger! I LOVE it!

  15. My daughter loves to act out the Elephant and Piggie books with puppets. Thanks for this informative post and especially for mentioning the corresponding game. It sounds like something my daughter would like to try.

  16. I love, love, love Elephant & Piggie - and this is a great post! I had no idea there was a game, I'm going to share that with the parents in my library who are always looking for games for their kids to play on our computers.

  17. Thanks, Katie. I love Elephant & Piggie, too. In fact, we hadn't read all the books yet, so we just checked a whole pile of them out from the library! Chris from Book Dads told me about the game. I hope the kids at the library enjoy it!

  18. I too love Elephant and Piggie. Given your blog and loves, have you seen Josephine Wants to Dance by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley. The children I teach like to dance 'like' Josephine. (She is a kangaroo!)

  19. Thanks for stopping by, Victoria. I've heard of Josephine Wants to Dance but haven't had the pleasure of reading it yet. It is on my long list of dance books to read someday, so I will try to find it soon. I'm glad that your students like to "dance" like Josephine, though!


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