Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, March 7, 2013

To Data Or Not To Data

Earlier this week one of my virtual colleagues, Cynthia Alaniz, wrote on her blog, Teaching in Cute Shoes, about a main character in a book who decides to give up all forms of technology, living like her grandmother did in 1962.  At the end of her post she spoke about the value of virtual connections for her and asked us readers which technology we could live without.  As for myself, I agree wholeheartedly with the value of the connections technology provides but it is definitely challenging to find a balance.  After all when you've grown up with the first televisions being black and white only, phones having party lines and the first transistor radios being cause for celebration, it's fascinating to see the swiftness in which technological advances are rapidly changing nearly every facet of our lives.

I find myself pausing more and more, thinking about time saved due to technology versus time lost in those very connections, personal and professional, which consume minutes and hours previously spent on other endeavors.  In the midst of these musing a book arrived by mail, the newest title written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino, Doug Unplugged (Alfred A. Knopf).  This robot wonders and then walks...well actually, he flies.

This is Doug. He's a robot.

Doug's loving parents (robots themselves) want the very best for their son, plugging him in every morning to fill his robotic self with loads of information.  As they head off to work, he is told learning about the city will be his factual food for the day.  Bits in bytes, trivia treasures, about the people population, trash cans, manholes, fountains, fire engines, skyscrapers, subways, fire hydrants, taxis and pigeons, transfer.

All goes as normal until a flash of feather catches Doug's eye.  It's a pigeon outside the window cooing.  He had not learned about the sound they make in his newly acquired data.

Wondering what else he might not have downloaded, he dares to unplug!  Whooshing out the window his new learning by living begins immediately; pigeons scatter when you fly into a flock. Each perspective based on previous knowledge is altered by Doug's personal experience; a very good teacher itself.

Not only is our eager adventurer storing up sights and sounds but he discovers something unique, something unexpected.  He discovers play in all its many forms when a simple question is asked and answered.  When trouble threatens Doug is the hero of the day learning one last truth which his parents think makes him the smartest robot ever.

There's something special in the presentation of Doug's story by Dan Yaccarino. It's like a young boy is telling us about his best friend who leaps from the known into the unknown; loving the city sights more and more as the hours pass.  His observations are uncluttered with past experiences, fresh in their newness.  The narrative is a cheerful, constant comparison between virtual and reality.  Here is a single passage.

Doug knew that skyscrapers had strong steel frames so they could be many stories high.
But he was amazed by the view from the top of one!  He could see everything!

Opening the matching jacket and cover readers are greeted by a roundish robot boy, shy smile and wide-eyed, holding and walking away from the plug.  Unlike the front the back background is a shade of plum patterned with a gray computer board.  Both sets of endpapers continue with the computer board pattern in shades of blue with Doug animated in seven different discoveries.

Using brush and ink on vellum and Photoshop Yaccarino begins with a pale dusty blue background for the first five double-page spreads until---Doug unplugged!  Then readers see liberal use of white space, green for the park and a hue of sky blue when needed as illustration sizes shift with the storyline   A bright, bold color palette illuminates the actions and emotions of Doug and the other characters.  Lively, simple and loaded with warmth these visuals are the perfect partner for the text.  My favorite illustration is a single page from play in the park; Doug sliding, swinging and sniffing a flower with his friend.

Doug Unplugged written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino proposes and shows the value in using all your senses to truly discover and experience the smallest details and the largest vistas as much as you can whenever you can.  I, for one, am glad Doug tugged the plug.  I highly recommend this as a read aloud; bedtime or storytime.

I would also suggest pairing this with Matthew Cordell's innovative hello! hello! reviewed here.  Be sure to check out Dan Yaccarino's website with the link embedded in his name above.  There is an additional two page spread well worth seeing.


  1. I'd seen Doug at several other blogs and he is ADORABLE! Love the premise of this story,and yes, it's the perfect companion to hello! hello! Adults need to read these titles just as much as kids.

    1. I wish someone would think about making a Doug the robot doll. He is adorable with a capital A. Yaccarino's expressions on his face are priceless. And I couldn't agree more about adults needing to read these titles as much as kids (me included).

  2. I agree and would be the first in line for a Doug the robot doll :).

    1. Okay, I'll be second! Don't forget to give me an address so I can send you Hattie Ever After.