With technology becoming a bigger and bigger presence in our lives, it may seem difficult to unplug. Kiddos have the same challenge, without the little voice of reason in their heads telling them to turn off the computer or pause the video game and get some exercise. Doug Unplugged, by Dan Yaccarino (Alfred A. Knopf), is a cute story about a young robot boy who learns that disconnecting and going outside can lead to wonderful adventures. If your kids are becoming mini robots and you’d like to send them a gentle message, grab this book.
Rob and Betty Bot want their son, Doug, to be the smartest little robot ever. (So far, you can probably relate.) Before they leave for work every morning, they plug him in, connecting a cord right into his bellybutton. (Hopefully you’ve stopped relating.) Presumably, Doug just mainlines facts all day—the robot combo version of school, clubs and hobbies. On this particular day, mom says, “Today you will be learning all about the city.” Dad’s parting words are, “Happy downloading!”
The illustrations are happy and modular, in bright, primary colors. The lines are strong and the design is softly reminiscent of the old “Jetsons” cartoon. The page where Doug is learning about city stuff looks like both a circuit board and a map. Sprinkled through this grid are facts like “Manholes: there are 750,000 manholes “Population: there are 8, 175, 133.5 people living in the city.” (We can assume Doug’s family lives in New York City.) After the reader combs a couple of pages of facts and icons—all pleasingly placed and spaced—Doug spots something in RL. It’s a pigeon. He’s read about such creatures, but he never expected the sensory aspects, like their “funny cooing sound.” Doug unplugs himself and, without really noticing, follows the pigeon outside.
Then Doug has all sorts of visceral experiences. He learns that stepping in wet cement feels squishy, and other truths that can’t be learned from downloads. And it’s not a world of only robots; eventually Doug meets a human boy at the playground. The message of “Robot vs. human, which do you want to be?” isn’t clear clut. The human actually needs help finding his parents, and Doug’s database of computer-learned facts comes in handy.
In the end, Doug discovers that the “best way to show our parents we love them is to hug.” Undoubtedly he also figures out that it’s nice to go outside once in awhile.
If your baby robots need a little hint, the sweet story is a moderately subtle one. If you are just trying to nip technology over-saturation in the bud, this is a good book to put into your child’s rotation early. It’s recommended for ages four to eight and it’s one that you should be able to read multiple times and still enjoy. You could probably download it, but we recommend going out and finding a tangible copy.