Groovy Joe Dance Party Countdown – Book Recommendation
“Groovy Joe is totally fun. He’s a song-singing, tail-wagging party of one!” Who is Groovy Joe, you might ask? Groovy Joe is a dancing, singing, guitar playing dog and is the literary creation of Eric Litwin, the best-selling author of the original four Pete the Cat books, The Nuts, and now Groovy Joe. In this newest book, Groovy Joe Dance Party Countdown, Groovy Joe is about to have a dance party when he hears a knock at the door. In come dogs that Joe’s never met. Will there be enough room for everyone? Dogs pile in and groove out with their instruments as they sing along with Groovy Joe. Every time there’s a knock at the door the number of dogs doubles and eventually you have a party packed with musical pooches!
I recently had a conversation with Eric Litwin, the author of Groovy Joe. We chatted about how his life as an elementary school teacher led him to write the original Pete the Cat stories, his love for music, the inspiration behind Groovy Joe, and a lot more. You can find our conversation in a recent podcast episode (find it here on Apple Podcasts or on Soundcloud). In this blog post I want to share a little more about the newest Groovy Joe book and ideas for using this resource in your classroom.
Books for Music – Books for Literacy
When you read Groovy Joe Dance Party Countdown (or really any book by Eric Litwin), it’s easy to see how kids are attracted to stories like this. The characters are fun and relatable, the illustrations are amazing, and the story draws you in with rhythm, patterns, repetition, call and response, and a lot more. In talking with Eric it was clear that his vision is to create books that teach kids to love reading. He intentionally creates vivid characters that smile and sing, and weave you into the story. Through call and response and repeated patterns Groovy Joe brings the reader into the story and teaches kids to predict what words and phrases are coming next. Any time I share these books with students they start to automatically say the next word in the story. “Eight dogs in the room means less space for Joe. Does Joe get upset?” and they can’t help but respond “Goodness no!” Groovy Joe even looks out at the reader to try and involve you in the storytelling. How can kids resist being pulled in?
Groovy Joe is perfect for emerging readers and use in the general education classroom, but I think that he also has a place in an elementary music setting. Nearly all my classes with primary students involve some sort of pattern recognition, call and response, rhythmic work, or movement. I’m constantly sharing lessons with kids that teach them to look for repetition and patterns. Groovy Joe gives me another way to introduce patterns and sequencing to students. Kids start to feel the rhythm of the story and internalize the repetition as they anticipate what is about to come next. They know to look for rhyming words, repeated words, and similar rhythms in each phrase and they also start to see a larger pattern of verse/chorus as the refrain “Disco Party, BOW WOW” comes back over and over again.
One of the things that I love in Groovy Joe’s newest book “Dance Party Countdown,” is that when new dogs show up to the party they’re all carrying instruments. By the time you’re done with the books there are guitars, a saxophone, a sousaphone, drums, tambourine, flute, violin. It’s great for students to see instruments of all kinds represented in a book that they love. I am always looking for posters, visuals, stories, and videos that expose kids to instruments. I feel like often you’ll find books or stories that show kids the “cool” instruments like electric guitars and drum sets. In “Dance Party Countdown,” kids see dogs holding instruments from marching band, jazz combos, rock bands, and more. There’s even a squirrel holding a tambourine! I love that kids get to see the instruments used in this new context because it keeps those instruments in their vocabulary and keeps the idea of joining a group and playing together in their mind.
Lesson Ideas for Groovy Joe
There are a lot of ways that this book could be integrated into the elementary music classroom and I think that the most obvious would be as a supplemental book with primary grades. It would be a great book for a 5-10 minute story time. For example, I might start class with a circle song, play a singing game, do some rhythm review/patterns, and then stop at my big green chair for story time. To preview the book I might take a minute or two to teach the chorus through call and response. I would sing “Disco Party” and teach the kiddos to respond back with “Bow Wow!” This easy pattern should only take a second or two to teach and then kids will be ready to go when we actually get into reading the book. As we work through the story as a class I think I could expect students to start to give me answer when I say things like “Four more dogs are going to disco with you! How many dogs are there now?” Kids are just naturally inclined to give the answers because the repeated patterns in the book elicit the response. Be prepared for “audience participation” with this book.
Another great thing about this book is the free online media. If you’re reading through the story and thinking “fun book, but how does this chorus go… guess I’ll make up a melody” you don’t have to. You can actually go online to find FREE, high-quality recordings of Mr. Eric singing the Groovy Joe chorus and song (check them out here). Not only is there a recording of the song that Groovy Joe sings, you’ll also find audio recordings of the entire book being ready by Eric Litwin himself! He reads the book, sings the chorus parts, and goes all the way through from front to back cover. There are even children singing along in the recordings. Lots of times on Facebook I see people post “Help, I’ve lost my voice but I need to teach something tomorrow” or ask for ideas for music sub lesson plans. If you get this book you can download the digital audio files which means that you have access to high-quality recordings of Mr. Eric reading the book for you and singing the songs that go along with the story. The audio recordings would also be great for a music sub who doesn’t really feel comfortable singing because the recordings do all of that for you.
Here’s another lesson idea for primary grades that springboards off of the Groovy Joe story. Start by putting out some nonpitched instruments in a circle formation (wood block, tone block, tambourine, etc… maybe those instruments you don’t use very often) and have kids stand on the outside of the circle. You can use THIS song from the Groovy Joe song downloads as a springboard and any time the chorus is sung have students pick up an instrument and play to the steady beat. In-between verses when Joe howls and the instruments on the recording play, have student put down their nonpitched instruments and walk/dance around the circle. When the singing starts back up they can stop moving and pick up a new instrument. This means that kids will be able to rotate around and try new instruments each time they play.
Academic Connections that your Administrator will LOVE
So often music teachers are asked or mandated that we must include literacy skills or math skills into our daily music lessons and we sit back and say: “but I’m supposed to teach kids to sing and play instruments, teaching reading/math/etc. is really not part of my job.” If you’re in that sort of situation (or even if you’re not) this book is a great way to make connections to other academic disciplines. Groovy Joe integrates multiple subject areas so seamlessly and gives you a way to teach other things like math/reading in a way that doesn’t take away from teaching music. Groovy Joe reinforces sight words, linear patterns, simple sentence structure, and basic phonics while also giving you the chance to encourage singing, instrument playing, pattern recognition, musical forms like call and response, and a lot more.
Groovy Joe also gives us a chance to integrate character education and social skills with our students. The story of “Dance Party Countdown” involves a party that’s getting more and more crowded with every knock at the door. It can be traumatic for kids when someone new shows up or lots of kids have to share the same resources. Kids don’t generally like change and find comfort in patterns and consistency. But the point of this book is to teach kids that it’s okay to share and it’s good to be inclusive and open to change. Groovy Joe is absolutely happy when new people show up to his party and he deals with changing circumstances and doesn’t get upset. “Eight dogs in the room means less space for Joe. Does Joe get upset?” and they can’t help but respond “Goodness no!”
Next Steps and a Book Giveaway!
The more I read through this book and really think about all the themes and connections that could be pulled out of the story, the more I really appreciate all the thought and time that has been put into writing it. It’s totally clear that Eric is not only a great author but a fantastic teacher who writes books that are sequential, age appropriate, musical, and meant to be used in so many ways in the classroom. This book is totally worth adding to your classroom library and using with multiple grade levels.
You’ll find Groovy Joe Dance Party Countdown featured at Scholastic Book Fairs in nearly any elementary school around the country. You can also find the book on the Scholastic website or our trusty favorite: Amazon.com. After talking with Eric Litwin for my podcast, he asked if we could give away a signed copy to readers and listeners. Of course I said yes! If you’d like to enter to win a FREE copy of Groovy Joe all you have to do is follow this link to enter your information. Just be sure to click “Make Moments Matter” when it asks how you heard about the contest. The giveaway ends this Sunday, Oct 8th at 11:59 p.m. so be sure to enter soon!