Song and Dance Man

By Karen Ackerman, Illustrated by Stephen Gammell

Analysis by Kendra D

When 3 children arrive at their grandfathers house, they know to expect him to talk about the good old days of his dancing on a vaudeville stage. After somehow managing to get them to stop watching television, the grandfather invites the children to all go to where he stores his old treasures in the attic. Once they all dress up like they are from the old days, they are essentially transported to that time. They spend the short time together laughing and watching as their grandfather dances with joy.

Literary Elements

The lively, colored pencil illustrations in this book are very reflective of the literary elements in it. As the book begins, the grandfather is waiting for his grandchildren to come and visit him. He is dressed in a yellow shirt, with a rosy nose and rosy cheeks. Both of these elements reflect the happy, upbeat character he is. As the grandchildren are introduced, they are also in colorful outfits. His granddaughter is wearing pink overalls, with socks and high heels, the way only an imaginative child would. They are all upbeat and fun characters and the color of the illustrations reflects this.

His house is just as colorful as he and the grandchildren are. It features all colors one could imagine, with many blue and yellows on the walls and in the furniture. The furniture, the old style TV and the crocheted blanket, reflect the nostalgia felt throughout the entire book. Once they are in the attic, there are not many aspects like the furniture. The backgrounds predominantly feature color, leaving the reader to imagine the setting. The colors are bright, allowing the reader to feel the liveliness of the vaudeville stage dancing.

As the book continues, the entire plot is assisted through the illustrations. If there were no text, the reader could still see and live the scenes and nostalgia with the characters in the text. The theme is also apparent through the illustrations. One of the major themes of life is that it goes too quickly, and it is important to live it with the ones you love doing what you love. The reader lives this theme as they dance and laugh along with the family. However, as soon as the fun gets going, its over. This ending, shown with grandpa laughing as he tries to catch his breath, is symbolic of the them. Life is short, so live it well.

Physical Features

The physical book features a rather average sizing and a rectangular shape. These qualities reflect the old fashions seen throughout the book. A different shape or size would display a sense of modernism that clashes with the overall thematic nostalgia throughout the book. The end and front papers both show tiny silhouettes of the grandfather dancing. These little drawings make it seem like the grandfather was dancing before the story and will continue to do so after. Similarly, the cover shows the grandfather dancing as well. Even before the book begins, the reader knows they are going to experience a show. The font and colors of the title are reflective of the illustrations, featuring different colors. The words seem to be dancing themselves, as they are at different heights and sizes. Additionally, the back cover features the children in their night clothes, dancing and having fun. This illustration suggests that even after their adventure with their grandfather, the children are dancing and having fun, living life the way that their grandfather taught them to.

Visual Elements

One of this book's most prominent visual features is the color used throughout. The interplay of many colors adds a sense of fun to the book as a whole. The juxtaposition of various hues of blues and yellows helps illuminate the contrast between the modern day and the light of the grandfather's past. In the attic, the shadows are not just shades of black, they are shades of blue and purple and brown, which contrast with the lamp light's yellow. This yellow is used as the stage light for grandpa, and helps symbolize the happiness he feels when he reminisces on his days as a dancer.

One page that epitomizes the illustrative style is where the grandfather is digging in his chest with all of his memories. Clothing is flying everywhere. In this scene, his bright yellow shirt stands out against the dark chest. The other clothing scattered everywhere creates motion that coincides with the dancing theme. It all seems to dance out of the box. Every line in the shadows can be seen, along with the crosshatching of various colors to get the playful feeling shadows. The shadows around him are in blue, not black like regular shadows. These shadows seem fun. The individual lines of the colored pencil are a very prominent feature throughout the book. Nothing is fully colored in, but seems to be sketched. The reader can see every individual hair on the grandfathers head. This specificity adds a sense of creative caution to the book. One can very literally see the effort the illustrator put into every illustration. In addition, the viewer sees only the grandfather digging through the chest. This point of view makes it seem as though the viewer is one of the children, waiting for their grandfather's show to start.

Visual Elements (Pt. 2)

Another powerful image is one where the grandfather is laughing with his hand out. Around him in the air are various shapes (moons, stars, circles, animals, triangles). This is the only page in the entire book with these features. They look almost like confetti, though the story line does not describe any. These elements add to the fun atmosphere of the entire scene. His smile along with the colorful "confetti" expresses his total ecstasy during his performance. Again, his yellow shirt is prominently featured and contrasts with the reds, purples and greens surrounding him. All of these colors, however, are bright and eye catching. The entire image looks like he really could be in some type of show and in an attic. The perspective again is one where the viewer is looking at the grandfather. It seems like he is throwing the confetti and the laughter towards the reader, and including them in the fun.


The illustrative style is realistic. This realistic style is important in extending the theme to a broad audience. While the grandfather's vaudeville experience is unique to him, and many grandparents will not have this experience, the overall message that spending time with family is important is universal. In addition, the message that life passes fast and it is important to do what you love with the people you love is also universal. The reader can more likely connect this theme with the illustrations because they portray people who look like people. The colorful drawing are very lively, placing the reader in the story and helping express the overall themes.

Artistic Media

The artistic media used for this book was colored pencil. The use of colored pencil is very important in conveying the setting and theme throughout the book. The reader is able to discern every individual line used by the illustrator in creating each of his drawings. This not only adds depth to actual illustration, but also in the creation of the book. The effort put forth is incredible, and adds an element of care to the overall creation of the book. The intricate illustrations are essential to absorbing the message and the adventure of the book. Without the expressions and color used, the overall message to live one's life to the fullest would not be as easily identified by the reader.

Elements of Illustration

The narrative sequence of the story is chronological, taking the reader from the arrival of the children to dinner time. The entire story takes place within an hour, yet the narrative takes the reader on a long adventure in just that short time. Throughout the time dancing in the attic, page turns create the entire story. The time in between the illustrations is the readers to fill in, imagining the family dancing and laughing as the grandfather goes on with his routine. The illustrations take up the majority of the page on most pages. Some pages feature tiny silhouettes which continue to add the the movement of the grandfather as he dances away. This layout if essential to dragging the reader into the scene with the family. The perspectives on most pages show just the grandfather, as though the reader is one of the grandchildren in awe. However, on some pages, the grandchildren are shown, and the reader is reminded that the whole family is having a fun time together. The ability of the illustrator to fit so much action into the few pages, and to have it all take place within an hour, is a testament overall to his ability and to the literary elements of the book as a whole.

Interplay of Text and Illustrations

The illustration and text in this book support each other heavily. The story is told from the view point of a child, adding a sense of childish wonder to the grandfathers overall performance. In addition, none of the children, nor the grandfather, have names. They are all fairly average looking as well. This allows the reader to generalize the situation to his or her own life. The illustrations support the text, but also tell the story on their own. Without the text, the reader would still get the message and the theme of the book. Overall, they work together to create a fun, enriching story for young readers.


Lukens, R. J., Smith, J. J., & Miller Coffel, C. (n.d.). A Critical Handbook of Children's Literature (9th ed.). Oxford, OH: Pearson Education.

Song and Dance Man. (n.d.). Retrieved February 10, 2016, from

Song and Dance Man by Karen Ackerman | (n.d.). Retrieved February 10, 2016, from