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Sunday, June 05, 2005

From Danny to Raisin -> Books -> Picture Books

Little Red ComputerThe earliest picture book that I've found, The Little Red Computer (McGraw Hill, 1969) entertains listeners with the tale of a computer that doesn't understand numbers but ultimately succeeds because it is "a computer with a mind of its own" (27). The images and story demonstrate the tension between an objective, modern society and a humanistic desire for nature and emotions. Like many children's books, The Little Red Computer weaves a didactic message, but it is one what really has little to do with technologies. Instead, the personified computer simply represents the value of the human over value of the machine.

More recent picture books shift the focus to lessons about computers and technology. Kermit Learns How Computers Work (Prima Publications, 1993) and Kermit Learns Windows (Prima Publications, 1993) set out to teach readers something about keyboards, mice, and software—all from the perspective of everyone's favorite Muppet. Getting your documentation from Sesame Street may seem strange to readers today, but remember thatplenty of children, teenagers, and adults have gotten advice on how to use their computers from an animated paper clip.

Arthur's Computer DisasterPicture books such as Franklin and the Computer (Kids Can Press, 2003) and Arthur's Computer Disaster (Marc Brown, 1999) focus on the kind of lessons you expect to hear on PSAs:
  • Don't monkey about with computers.
  • You may be playing a game, but a computer is not a toy.
  • If you break something, tell an adult .
  • Too much time online make you a dull kid.
The School Library Journal describes Arthur's Computer Disaster:
[T]his episode pits Arthur against his mother for computer time. He wants to play Deep, Dark Sea, but she has forbidden him to touch her PC while she is at work. However, the silent machine proves to be more temptation than Arthur can withstand. Pal Buster encourages him; D.W. predicts doom. A tug of war, a crashing keyboard, and an inoperable computer follow. Desperate attempts to fix it fail; in the end, Mom returns home, Arthur confesses, suffers the consequences, and learns a valuable lesson when Mom offers, "Always call me with your problems."

A House with No MouseWhile these books focus on the troubles children can get into with computers, the plots could just as easily be about anything that the child overuses or uses without permission. These books follow the same structures as such titles as The Berenstain Bears and Too Much TV (Random House, 1984) and Arthur's TV Trouble (Marc Brown, 1997).

There are picture books that break out of this didactic focus, but they seem to be the exceptions. Patrick's Dinosaurs on the Internet (Clarion, 1999) presents a group of dinosaurs as "big brother." They have traveled off into outer space, but Patrick finds in an Internet chat one night that the dinosaurs are still watching over him, appearing late at night on his computer screen. A House with No Mouse (Mousetime Media, 2003) addresses the problems of the digital divide directly by exploring the many houses that do not have computers and showing the alternatives that these people use to get online.

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