Feb 20, 2012

Knockin' On Wood: Peg Leg Bates

Knockin' On Wood, Starring Peg Leg Bates (CAN, JP, USA, INT)

Written and Illustrated by: Lynne Barasch

Published by: Fitzhenry & Whiteside

Published on: February 25, 2005

My daughter loves to dance. She sings to herself to dance, she dances whenever she hears music, and sometimes she dances to a tune I know she only hears in her head. She loves to dance to Baby Rotation by AKB48, one of the most horrifying examples of J-Pop and inappropriate sexualization of young girls in this country, which I wouldn't listen to for anybody but her. I want to get her into classes when she's older, but all the classes I have found seem to be during the day, and since I work we are automatically ineligible.

I've been looking for books about dancing for her, most of which come from the fantastic blog Picture Books and Pirouettes. Personally I have an interest in tap, which I have never seen in Japan, but which I like because you make your own music. So I set out to find a tap book and got this one.

This is a picture book biography of Clayton "Peg Leg" Bates (1907 - 1998). Clayton was born to a sharecropper but would do anything to get out and dance. He took a job the local cotton seed mill when he was twelve and soon lost his left leg in an accident. This didn't stop him dancing though, he recovered and went on to be better than the two-legged tap dancers.

That's doesn't mean Peg Leg, as he was now known, would get his happy ending from his talent and drive. Because when he was at the height of his popularity segregation still abounded in the US. After performing to a sold-out theatre he would have to leave to have a meal in the black restaurants. But Bates was not one to take anything, even the loss of a leg, lying down, and he eventually opened up his own Peg Leg Bates Country Club where he performed and welcomed guests no matter their colour.

The illustrations in this biography show great depth in the backgrounds, which gives kids a feel for the early 20th century, on poor farms or in vaudeville theatres. The weak point is that the faces of the characters have the same expression at all times.

This is food for a lot of conversation. My son remembered reading Viola Desmond Won't Be Budged a couple of weeks ago,  and asked why Peg Leg didn't just leave and go to Desmond's hometown. It was an interesting conversation and we touched on a lot of issues, and I think he has figured out that I don't know everything now as I don't know where there would have been less racism at that time. We also talked about Bates' mothers faith and how her "Lord" is different from the gods he has been introduced to by Buddhism and Shinto.

I was curious to see Peg Leg's dancing after this, and found this video. He's 60 in his last performance on the Ed Sullivan show.

Peg Leg Bates is truly inspiring. He got up and danced no matter the obstacle, and he brought smiles to millions.

It's time for me to stop making excuses. In this day and age, with music everywhere, and Wii games and Youtube videos that will teach you to dance, my daughter can do anything she wants even without lessons, and I will support her to do that.

This post is part of Nonfiction Monday, a weekly event in the kidlitosphere, hosted this week by Lori Calabrese.


  1. Great YouTube clip! What an amazing sounding man - thank you for introducing him to me.

  2. Thanks for a great post! I'd never heard of Peg Leg Bates or this book, but now I am so inspired I need to find it for my daughters! Both of them tap and I would love to share it with them. That clip is amazing!

  3. Hi, Medea. I loved reading your review of this book. I had heard of it, but didn't know much about the story. It's very inspiring, especially the video you included in your post. Thanks for linking up to the Read & Romp Roundup, too. Can't wait to share this post with others! Thanks, too, for the shoutout. I'm so happy to hear that my blog is helping you find books for your daughter! And regarding tap, I wish there were more picture books out there about it. Have you seen Rap a Tap Tap? It's a great one about Bojangles: http://www.amazon.com/Rap-Tap-Bojangles-Coretta-Illustrator/dp/product-description/0590478834...

    1. Oh thanks Kerry! I will add that to my to-buy list! Love Bojangles. Thanks for your blog too, lots of inspiration there!

  4. Great post. I think kids would get such a kick out of this story, especially when they can access live footage like this.

  5. What a great book to inspire and show kids that you can do anything!

  6. Hi Medea, Kerry's website is also a favorite of mine, and I do visit her site whenever I am looking for anything remotely connected to dance. This looks like a mighty animated picture book. I shall have to look this up in our library. :)

  7. I have never heard of him. Sounds like a great read! I am checking it out at my local library.

  8. I think that vile song is called Heavy Rotation - Baby Rotation sounds like something you do to try and sort a breech positioning before birth ;) i saw the video for the song for the first time recently and it actually sickened me.

    I wish Little S were older so I could get some of these books for her! Tempted to start stockpiling now but I probably shouldn't!

    1. Now that's just embarassing! I am terrible with songs, I thought that Blister in the Sun was about a tornado for years.

      I am a terrible person to ask, I'm already stocking up on middle school books for my kids (okay, me). But yes, you have to at least get her some Karen Katz and Sandra Boynton books!

    2. And Mo Willems and Kevin Henkes and Mercer Mayer and...

  9. My daughter fancies herself quite the dancer as well. She looks a little bit like Elaine from Seinfeld, but who cares, right? She's only six. Besides, no one cares how well you dance, they just want you to dance. That's kinda a family motto at our house.

    I also wanted to thank you for stopping by my blog http://literarylunchbox.blogspot.com/ and commenting on my son's essay. He has been walking on air after his win and loves hearing the thoughtful comments from all my fellow bloggers. BIG thanks!

  10. Thanks so much for including this in my monthly carnival - it sounds super (not least because I've always wanted to tap dance too...)


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