Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Book to Boogie: Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses

Book to Boogie is a monthly series that pairs picture books with dance and movement activities for preschool story time. The series is curated by Kerry Aradhya of Picture Books & Pirouettes and written by a different guest writer each month. We hope that children’s librarians, as well as classroom teachers and dance educators, will find these activities useful and fun!

by Liz Vacco

Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses CoverAt a professional development session a little while back, several elementary school teachers mentioned the Pete the Cat books by Kimberly and James Dean as ripe with movement possibilities. I welcomed their suggestion and picked up a copy of one of the books as soon as I could. After perusing several more, I decided to try out Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses.  I was not disappointed.

What seems consistent about the Pete the Cat books is that they establish a pattern and then follow it fairly predictably, allowing for variations along the way. In this case, Pete the Cat is feeling blue until his friend, Grumpy Toad, lends him his “cool, blue, magic sunglasses.” These sunglasses help him to see everything in a much more positive light. Pete then lends the glasses to several of his friends who are each experiencing challenging emotions until they try on the glasses and feel much better.

The list of emotions experienced by Pete and his friends include blue, mad, frustrated, and sad. This invites discussion about shades of meaning and the importance of expressing emotions, which of course is something that can be done through movement. Students love to express emotion through movement. (I’ve seen some amazing angry dances in my day.) Movement also gives them a language through which they can convey nuances when verbal language might not suffice.

So our movement exploration of Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses was pretty straightforward, as we did movements to portray each character and his or her emotional state, followed by a happier dance once all the characters had the glasses on. On the other hand, having to convey the details and shades of meaning (e.g., blue as opposed to sad) made the task a little less obvious and a little more challenging. The book also includes a less obvious ending, breaking the established pattern when Pete breaks the glasses and learns that you don’t need an object to help you stay positive. Wise Old Owl coaches him to see that it’s all in how you look at things. To this end, the final page is a refrain of wording from each of Pete’s encounters:

“Pete looked around…The birds are singing. The sky is bright. The sun is shining. We’re feeling alright.”

Each time the characters looked around with or without the glasses, I had the students look up, down, left and right, and in a circle. Then we broke into our happier dance, for which I played music, as I had for all the emotion dances throughout. I do love the natural rhythm that the words create, however, and so am considering making up a specific little movement phrase to go with that rhythm for next time — as I’m certain there will be a next time. Not that I ever doubt an elementary school teacher, but the ones who told me about Pete the Cat were right — Pete the Cat is great for movement!

Liz Vacco.

Liz Vacco.

With a bachelor’s degree in theatre studies from Yale University, Liz Vacco has been a dance, yoga, theater, and early childhood educator for 13 years in New York City and now Los Angeles. She has taught through the New York City Ballet’s Education Program, the California Dance Institute, and various studios and public schools, while also performing in and choreographing for professional productions. As of 2015, she oversees the dance program at Gabriella Charter School, a California-based public charter school at which all students dance daily. She is a strong believer in arts education and promoting physical well-being and opportunities for artistic expression to people of all backgrounds. She is currently pursuing her multiple subject and kinesiology credentials and M.A. in education at Cal State LA. For more information about Liz and to learn about her original ballet video series for kids, titled Petite Feet, please visit

from Library as Incubator Project

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