Dogs, dancing, and daring to embrace our differences with Gemma Atkinson

Primary Times speaks with popular actress, radio host and TV presenter Gemma Atkinson about the importance of trying new things and following your dreams, as seen in ‘Dogs Don’t Dance’

Having risen to fame through her time starring on Hollyoaks, Gemma also co-presents CBeebies' TV series The Toddler Club, encouraging families to explore the world together through play.

Building on her passion for animals and storytelling, Gemma now enters the children’s book world with ‘Dogs Don’t Dance’. As a heartwarming and engaging picture book aimed at ages 2+, the story focuses on two dogs, Dave and Dusty, challenging stereotypes and showing the power of friendship. We talked with Gemma to get her thoughts and to find out more about building self-confidence and being yourself…

Are Dave and Dusty based on real dogs?

Yes, they’re based on our dogs Norman and Ollie! Dave is like Norman, he’s quite sensitive and shy, and Dusty is like Ollie, crazy and wild and jumps in headfirst. Lisa Hunt did the illustrations and she’s brought them to life so well!

Do you think families, especially those with pets, enjoy reading about animals and animal characters?

Definitely! For me, having a pet teaches children responsibility from a young age. It teaches them to share and to have empathy through looking after another living being that’s part of your family. If the dogs and different animals in this book can try something new, then you absolutely can too!

Are there any important messages in ‘Dogs Don’t Dance’ for the readers to take away?

The main message is that we can all be so similar but so different. Children are sometimes expected to like certain things but if you don’t like the same things as everybody else, it’s okay. It’s about having the courage to try something new. Don’t be afraid to follow your passions and do what’s right for you.

Do you think it sometimes feels hard for children to try new things and to be themselves?

Yes, and for adults too! You have to just give it a go sometimes but for children it can feel really daunting. We don’t have to live up to huge expectations from others. It’s all about reassuring children - if they try something out and they don’t like it, they don’t have to pretend that they do.

Would you say it’s important to embrace everybody’s differences, in children’s books and more widely?

I’d say so. I think reading is the best way to learn. It’s great that there are books out there for kids now that include animals, aliens, dinosaurs and nearly everything you could imagine, to get their message across. Anything that can broaden and open minds to different ideas is fabulous.

What do you love about dancing and is it something that families can enjoy together?

Absolutely! There are some dance moves at the back of the book to try out together. A good thing about dancing is that if you get a good playlist going or a song that you like, anyone can do it! There’s no right or wrong way to move to music.

Do you have any other projects coming up that we should look out for?

I’m hopefully going to do another children’s book! I’ve loved this one and I’m planning to go into a few schools to read it with the children which will be lovely. I’m going back to my radio show in April too which is exciting! The book has been a slow process but it’s definitely worth it.

Dogs Don’t Dance’ by Gemma Atkinson and illustrated by Lisa Hunt is out now, published by Scholastic.

Photography © David Venni

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