The Thumbtack Dancer by Leslie Tryon

The Thumbtack dancer by Leslie Tryon
The Thumbtack dancer by Leslie Tryon

today’s children storybook summary is

The Thumbtack Dancer

By Leslie Tryon

Illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist

The takeaway: When you have a talent to share with the rest of the world, but you don’t have money to buy a pair of shoes…don’t give up. Show up every morning and knock on faith’s door and one day it will open for you.  


Gus is an upbeat boy who loves to dance. He dances from sunrise to sunset. He does his wake-up dance, his teeth-brushing dance, bed-making and getting-dressed dance every morning. Then he dances down the steps and out of the house, while his mother, amused, watches him from the kitchen. Everything he does in a day, he does it dancing in thumbtack rhythms, in his thumbtack sneakers.

Every morning he gets up and knocks on the great red door of a dance studio. When the instructor, a tall, slim man with a cane, opens the door, Gus does his “watch-this” dance. But the man asks him if he has real tap shoes, as thumbtacks are not allowed. “You are just a sidewalk dancer” he tells Gus.

The boy leaves the studio thinking he’d never be able to afford tap shoes. But he doesn’t give up. Dancing up the street, Gus is heavily thinking, dancing and thinking. That’s why he hardly notices that a woman with a stroller had tossed a coin to him, because he had made her crying baby laugh.

Gus got an idea. He puts down his cap and keeps dancing. The sidewalk fills up with people, clapping and stomping to the rhythm of his beat. They also drop money in the cap. Soon enough, the cap is full of coins. Gus think he may afford that tap shoes, after all. He bows to the people on the sidewalk, holding his bow for as long as they were applauding. He feels famous.

With his cap in his hands, he returns to the dance studio and knocks on the door. When the instructor opens, Gus tells him that tomorrow he will buy that real tap shoes.


Gus, a young African American boy, wearing thumbtack sneakers, a red and blue cap and a green t-shirt, with a pair of grey pants, mother, the dance instructor, a man with a cane and grey hair.


Jan Spivey Gilchrist uses watercolor to illustrate this story. Her biggest accomplishment is the image of the boy, who appears upbeat, smart, and graceful, all at once. The illustrator uses a “sharp and misty” technique, to bring in focus the main elements on the page, while the details, remain almost to be fathomed. Overall, the pictures are a great companion to the story.

Recommended Age: 5 to 8 years old

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Things to Learn

Tap dance: a dance that produces a tap sound, coming from hitting a hard floor with special tap shoes.

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