Rupert Can Dance

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
Rupert Can Dance Book Poster Image
Endearing tale of exuberant twinkle toes and a dancing cat.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Teaches a love of dance and expression.

Positive Messages

Dancing is fun and joyous. Sometimes we can help friends move beyond their shyness. Different creatures or people have different personalities -- some are more private than others -- and that's OK. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Mandy wants to help Rupert, but, when he doesn't respond to direct offers, she thinks of a clever solution: She asks him to help her. Mandy's a caring and thoughtful friend. With her help, Rupert is able to move beyond his shyness. Both take great pleasure in physical expression, artistry, and performing. Mandy models thoughtfulness for friends' feelings and acceptance of differences in personality.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the charming Rupert Can Dance is by multitalented Jules Feiffer, author/illustrator of numerous picture books, illustrator of the classic The Phantom Tollbooth, and Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist. As a cartoonist, he created a signature modern dance character who famously danced across the pages of the Village Voice. In this book, he reimagines that dancer as a young girl named Mindy who learns some moves from her cat, Rupert, who's been dancing in secret. The story has plenty of Feiffer's trademark humor and psychological insight, and, though his illustration style is wispily sketchy, Mandy's positions are technically accurate and will satisfy the critical eye of trained dancers.

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What's the story?

Mandy is an exuberant and joyous young dancer, and when Rupert, her cat, watches her, he's inspired to dance, too -- though he does so secretly, when she's sleeping. When Mandy tries to teach Rupert some actual steps, he hides under the bed: "The fun in dancing was to do it his own way. In secret. And without having to take lessons." Rupert is, after all, a cat. So Mandy devises a plan. She pretends to have trouble with a step and asks for help. When Rupert emerges, we're treated to pages of the two dancing, and told that they continued dancing together "for years." On the last page, we see them all grown up, happily dancing on a professional stage.

Is it any good?

Author-illustrator Jules Feiffer is an expert at depicting the joy of movement; his iconic modern dancer was always expressively joyous. Now that she's pictured as a young girl in RUPERT CAN DANCE, there's an additional youthful buoyancy, and she seems to fly off the page. Mandy's dancing is infectious, and there's sly psychological insight in the observations about cats being free spirits and therefore not liking lessons.

The last page, with the two dancing together on the big stage -- Mandy grown up and Rupert in a top hat and tails (referencing another classic Feiffer character) -- is shiver-inducing and feels perfectly right.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about dancing. Do you like to dance? Do you prefer to dance privately like Rupert, or do you like taking lessons? Or both?

  • What do you think of how the drawings work with the story? Does author Jules Feiffer capture the ways cats and dancers actually move? 

  • The book describes cats as free spirits and says dogs and cats have different personalities. Do you think that's true? What about people you know? Are some people more like cats? Are others more like dogs?

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