Song and Dance Man

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by Karen Ackerman. Illustrated by Stephen Gammell. Picture Book. 32 pages. Grades 2-4.
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Review

cover art

This Caldecott Award winner tells a simple story, told by the grandchildren, of a grandfather who takes them to the attic where he opens a trunk full of costumes and props from his days as a song and dance man. When the stage is set and the spotlight (an old bridge lamp) is turned on, the act begins and Grandpa is transformed into the showman he once was.

The present tense narrative is simple but contains some lovely similes such as: “his voice is as round and strong as a canyon echo.” The illustrations are done with brightly colored pencils. We see grandfather first on the title page, sitting in his easy chair, grinning but looking old and tired. The colored pencil illustrations show Gammell's usual unkempt and slightly grotesque people who are somehow beautiful and familiar. The shadows cast by the various lamps in the house highlight and cover some of the action which bleeds out across the print.

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Things to Talk About and Notice

  • Observation: How old do you think Grandpa is? What do you notice that helps you make your guesses?

  • Grammar: Change part of the story to past tense. Do you like it better? Why do you think the author used the present tense?
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Activities

  • Dance, Songs, Movement: Put on a classroom performance involving everybody in the class. Decide if you’ll be a performer, a singer or a musician. Decide together what kinds of music to do, what kind of costumes to wear and work out the performances. Invite parents or another classroom to view the performance.

  • Songs Dance: Find and sing the song Grandpa sings in the story, “Yankee Doodle Boy.” Work out a dance routine to the song.

  • Music Appreciation, Rhythm, Pattern: Put on music with strong, steady beats such as marches or waltzes. Tap your feet or clap your hands to the music. Do you notice a pattern? Can you use that pattern to make up a dance?

  • Music Appreciation, Dance: Grandpa dances to music he likes. Find a recording of music you like. Decide what kind of dance will go best with that kind of music. Perform the dance.

  • Customs: Grandpa has several kinds of hats in the old chest. List them and then find out more kinds of hats that could be in that trunk. Draw pictures of each kind.

  • Making Inferences: Grandpa finds several ways to show the children he loves them. What are they?

  • Comparing Literature: Watch a movie such as “The Seven Little Foys” which is about Vaudeville. Which of the things that happen in the movie might Grandpa have done?

  • Musical Instruments, Vocabulary: Grandpa plays the banjo. Listen to some banjo music. Find some words to describe the sound and how it makes you feel.

  • History: We don’t see many Vaudeville acts anymore. What happened to Vaudeville? When did it stop? What do people do now for entertainment?
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