Growing up, I was an undeniably, awkward child. I was overweight, wore wide rim glasses; and contained a mouth full of braces. I was terribly shy and when I was around people, I didn’t understand myself enough to be myself. I was dreadfully teased. At that time, there was no such thing as bullying awareness like there is today; and I was bullied. I felt powerless, lost, and worthless. I was uncomfortable in my own skin for most of my adolescent to teenage years. Then, somewhere around age 21, I just let go of feeling sad and sorry for myself. I prayed to God all the time, “Lord, let me be me 110% of the time; and nothing less”. Over a period of time, I began to love myself a little more, take care of myself a little more, and understand myself a little more. Over the years, I have worked so hard on myself that the idea of being something other than myself is insulting. This understanding of self is definitely something I want to pass on to my son. I want him to embrace himself with no apologies. I want him to not care about what others think. I want him to celebrate his uniqueness, his quirks, and complexities. Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andrea Guy Parker- Rees preaches this message of individuality and acceptance. It’s a personal favorite of mine because I can identify with the giraffe’s story more than anybody’s.
Gerald the giraffe is awkward and different. He is tall with knot knees. He is clumsy and there is only one like him in the jungle. Every year, the animals in the jungle have a “Jungle Dance”. All the animals participate in their own way. Unfortunately for Gerald, he thinks that he is a really bad dancer. The story is about what happens when Gerald takes his shot at dancing; how he overcomes the challenge and the lesson that he learns.
Gerald is such a relatable and truthful character. He is not perfect; and in the beginning of the story, he regards himself to be terribly different. In the story, the rhinos dance with the rhinos and the tigers dance with the tigers. Unfortunately, Gerald is the only animal that does not belong to a group. Additionally, he is the only animal that does not dance like the rest of the jungle. It is nice to see that the dances of the different animal groups are recognized, but it has to be challenging for Gerald to dance in the Jungle Dance alone. What do you do when you are the only one of your kind? The story does have a happy ending. He ultimatley discovers his groove. His journey helps us to recognize how much courage it takes to be yourself and embrace your own individuality. It also helps us to realize that inclusivity begins with accepting what makes us different.