2 Children’s Dance Books with Social Emotional Learning Themes

Being a child can be hard… No seriously!  Children can be easily influenced by others and are vulnerable to making comparisons to others.  This is because they are in the beginning process of building their own identity and self-security.  In this blog post, I will be reviewing two children’s books with dance and social emotional learning themes.  The two books in this review remind children to accept themselves and others for who they are. They also teach resilience with a common message to not give up even when you have a hard time achieving a goal.

I will be giving you a peek inside the pages of Giraffes Can’t Dance and Jitterbugs!  Within the review, you will learn about these stories, related themes, and the featured dances.

Giraffes Can’t Dance

  1. Title: Giraffes Can’t Dance Written by:  Giles Andreae; Illustrated by: Guy Parker-Rees
  2. Type of Book: Picture story book
  3. Setting: Africa
  4. Main Characters and Plot Summary: In the beginning of the story, Gerald the giraffe is insecure about his dancing.  He let others’ mean comments get to him.  Later in the story, he receives encouragement from an unnamed cricket that suggested Gerald should listen to his body and listen to the different sounds around him while he practiced dancing.  Once Gerald started listening to different sounds around him he danced more confidently and eventually he was able to have fun dancing in front of others.
  5. Main Themes: Jungle, self-acceptance, practice and perseverance
  6. Dance Themes: Jungle animals show what varied dances look like including waltz, rock and roll, tango, cha-cha-cha, and Scottish reel.
  7. Take away: This book focuses on acceptance, practice, and perseverance and is disguised with fun dances and jungle animals.  The theme would be comprehensible if some children would like to read this on their own.  This story is also a good reminder for children who might be intimidated by a dance or any movement based class.  This story is a reminder that anybody can dance and there is no one way to dance.


  1. Title: Jitterbugs!  Written by: Margot Toppen (founder of Dancing with Class); Illustrated by:  Karen Light
  2. Type of Book: Picture story book
  3. Setting: Harlem, NYC – Insect characters in the swing era (1920’s-1950’s)
  4. Main Characters and Plot Summary: Shorty George and Big Bea are the main characters.  Shorty George is a small, unknown type of insect.  His character was inspired by a real-life historical Lindy Hop dancer with the same name.  Shorty George was actually a short man in real life!  In the story, Shorty George was easily intimidated by other dancers but Big Bea saw his unique dancing and encouraged him to keep dancing.  Big Bea is a big bumble bee that was the best ballroom dancer around.  She is also inspired by a historical dancer with the same name.  She was actually a tall woman in real life.  The pair danced together and used their unique qualities to become dance champions in the famed Savoy Ballroom.
  5. Main Themes: Acceptance of others’ differences, self-confidence, and jazz music
  6. Dance Themes: Partner dancing, swing dance/Lindy hop.  This book includes fun and easy dance breaks within the story so that readers can dance while following along with the story.
  7. Take Away: This book is a great marriage between learning about a historical time period and a reminder to accept our own unique traits and abilities. This book is a great teaching opportunity to learn about musical and science phrases (insect jokes) and celebrates the era of the Harlem Renaissance. For this reason, it’s a really fun story for adults and children to enjoy together.  Lastly, this book features cued dance-along moments that break up the story, and therefore could benefit children who have a hard time focusing for long periods of time and maybe even don’t like reading for this reason.

Both of these books can be found at some libraries, and through book retailers. Exclusive author-signed copies of Jitterbugs! are also available right from the Dancing with Class online store.


– Contributed by Ciera Shimkus, LPC, Expressive Arts Therapist

Interested in more children’s books about dance? Check out this post!

Want to learn more about what Dancing with Class has to offer? Check out our programs!

For classrooms anywhere: check out EduMotion: SEL Journeys , experiential learning for  classrooms around the world.


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