“Dogs Don’t Do Ballet” by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie (Picture Book Teaching Ideas).

I’m so happy I stumbled across this picture book as it’s been a firm favourite with all age groups!

As a class teacher and a supply teacher I’ve always liked to bring a range of picture books that children can vote on (also a great way to talk about the British value of democracy). This books consistently wins the vote, children seem to find the idea of dogs doing ballet really funny and intriguing.


The narrator’s dog, Biff, loves doing ballet but her dad insists “dogs don’t do ballet”. After Biff sneaks to her ballet class, he is sneered at by the ballet teacher and once again told “dogs don’t do ballet”. Biff is so sad that he can’t bring himself to eat or do anything other than howl at the moon. The narrator gets tickets to the ballet for her birthday and asks dad if Biff can go too but, suprise surprise, he says no (“dogs don’t do ballet!”). At the ballet, the prima ballerina trips over and it’s Biff’s time to shine!

Vocabulary, Language and Inference Questions
This book is great for inference questions about how Biff is feeling, this also provides brilliant opportunities to draw out some great vocabulary.

How does Biff feel when he’s standing in front of the ballet teacher in his tutu? (proud, prepared, determined)
Why do Biff’s ears droop? How is he feeling? (embarrassed, ashamed, frustrated, disappointed, heart-broken, forlorn, depressed because the ballet teacher throws him out of class).
How does Biff feel when the little girl asks dad if he can go to the ballet too? (hopeful)
How do you think Biff feels when he’s waiting the audience to react to his performance? (nervous, worried, embarrassed, terrified)

Wow words: Plié, Jeté, Pirouette, Arabesque, first position, ballet, Prima ballerina, calamity

Activity ideas:

Art, Reading – Draw Biff doing ballet, can you draw any other animals doing ballet?
Can you imitate the front cover exactly then adapt it?

Writing – Can you write your own story of an animal wanting to do ballet, or something that people might tell them not to do?
Music, Dance, Culture – Watch a short ballet clip e.g, Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy (2:39); Swan Lake (1:43). Do you like ballet? Why do you think people enjoy it?
PE/Dance – Look at the pictures and clips of ballet, can you imagine what Biff’s routine might have been and act it out?
Drama – Can you act out the story in small groups? Have a look at this play advert, how have they adapted the story?

PSHE – How do you think Biff felt when people told him he couldn’t do ballet? Is it fair when people say people shouldn’t do something that they enjoy?
How could the ballet teacher and dad have reacted to Biff wanted to do ballet?
For older children this could lead to a nice discussion about gender stereotypes for certain activities/jobs (see a great TES powerpoint resource here)

Links to other books
(Year 2 Greater Depth Teacher Assessment Framework for reading: “make links between the book they are reading and other books they have read”)

Have you heard of other books where people are ridiculed or not allowed to do something they want to do?
Can you think of other books with dancing animals?


Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae – Also has animals dancing in it. The title makes it seem more similar than it is as in “Dogs don’t do ballet” the dog can dance but is prevented from dancing by others, whereas in “Giraffes can’t dance” the main character doesn’t want to dance because he feels he can’t.
The Boy in the Dress by David Williams – A chapter book about being ok to be different, and a boy who likes to wear dresses (similar to Biff wearing a tutu).
The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson (see my blog for teaching ideas) -also has a protagonist who is initially ridiculed for being different but is eventually accepted and praised.

“The Snail and the Whale” by Julia Donaldson (Teaching Ideas)

The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler is a lovely picture book and narrative poem about adventure; helping each other; and being different. It would be a nice book to read for all primary ages and has lots of potential for discussion about human impact on wildlife, geography and a responsibility to help each other.

Synopsis: An tiny sea snail longs for adventure and, despite her friends discouraging her, she takes matters into her own hands and uses her trail to write a message asking for a lift around the world. A whale sees this and offers her a lift on his tail. They go to see “towering icebergs, fiery mountains” and lots more amazing sights. One day, the whale gets lost and confused by noisy speed boats and is beached. The resourceful snail finds a way to help her friend by writing a trail message for local school children, who come and help keep the whale hydrated until the tide comes in. When the snail returns home, they regale the other snails with stories of their adventures and all the snails decide to join them.

Vocabulary and language:
There are lots of great opportunities to develop vocabulary and and inference skills:

What is a trail? Have you seen a trail before? What other types of trail are there?
Why does the author say the snail has an “itchy foot“? (“itchy feet” metaphorically meaning an urge to travel, snails’ bodies are referred to as a foot).
What is soot?
What is a “fiery mountain“?
What type of snail is it? Is it the same type of snail you would find in your garden?

Wow words: arched, crashed, frolicked, hideous, vast, earsplitting, helpless

Activity ideas:
Art, Reading – Draw the snail and the whale – can you think of or draw any other unlikely animal pairings? How could a very small animal save a larger, stronger animal? (Potential link to Aesop’s Fable: The Lion and the Mouse)
Writing – Can you write a story in rhyming couplets? Can you write another page of the story?
Geography – Can you use your geography knowledge to work out where in the world the snail and the whale might be on different pages? Is there a clue about where the snail started? (The ship says “Pride of Glasgow”) Could you plot their route around the world? You could use Ventusky interactive world map to explore the temperature of different locations. Where could there be icebergs? Where could the volcanoes be?

Ventusky interactive world map showing temperature around the world.

Science – Do you know the names of all the animals you can see in the book? What do you know about their habitats?
PSHE – Why do you think the snails told the adventurous snail to stay where she was? Do you think that was the right thing for them to do?

Links to other books:
(Year 2 Greater Depth Teacher Assessment Framework for reading: “make links between the book they are reading and other books they have read”)

Have you heard any other stories of beached whales?
Have you read any other books written by Julia Donaldson or illustrated by Axel Scheffler?
Have you heard any other stories where a smaller animal helps a larger animal? (e.g., Aesop’s Fable: The Lion and the Mouse)
Have you heard any other stories where someone wants to go on an adventure?

Image result for humphrey the lost whale a true story
Humphrey the Lost Whale: A True Story – another book featuring a a whale.