There has been a lot of press and controversy surrounding this book. I first heard about it in an interview with one of the authors on public radio’s On Point (click here to listen). I found the interview to be vaguely annoying, in part due to one of the “guests,” but I also felt that the moderator was not handling things well either. However, the subject matter and theory behind the book sounded so interesting that I absolutely had to check it out. It seemed to be fitting for our unplugged family, and for Unplug Your Kids.
This book is coauthored by two British brothers who wanted to share with the world the activities that they enjoyed, and subjects that had fascinated them as children. According to the interview I heard, the authors are frustrated with plugged-in children, interested only in x-boxes, computer games and TV.
The book soared to the top of the best-seller list in England and now is climbing steadily here. Apparently certain subjects were altered to appeal to the American market (ex. cricket was removed, baseball was added). It is really sort of an encyclopedia of activities and knowledge “for boys.” The “for boys” part is what seems to have stirred up all the controversy.
Call me a wimp, but for better or worse, I am a very non-confrontational person and I really don’t want to get into a feminist, nature vs. nurture, girls vs. boys, or any other kind of debate here or anywhere else. All I can say is that the title does not bother me in the least. Might some girls like this book? Yes. Might some boys NOT like this book? Yes. Could/should the authors have called it something else? I don’t know. End of subject. I want to talk about the book, not the controversy.
This book is a bit of an encyclopedia, or guidebook, to certain activities and knowledge that might be considered lost on today’s youth. Even the cover and marbleized end papers of the book recall a bygone era.
The introduction is wonderful and explains the whole premise of this book: unplug your kids! Here is the first paragraph:
“In this age of video games and cell phones, there must still be a place for knots, tree houses, and stories of incredible courage. The one thing that we always say about childhood is that we seemed to have more time back then. This book will help you recapture those Sunday afternoons and long summers-because they’re still long if you know how to look at them.”
Here, here! I so agree!
As for the rest of the book, it contains an odd array of activities (for example: Making a Periscope, Coin Tricks, Charting the Universe, Making a Battery, Marbling Paper, Secret Inks, Making Crystals, and Making Cloth Fireproof) and very diverse information (ex. Famous Battles, Navigation, The Fifty States, Baseball’s Most Valuable Players, The Rules of Rugby, Latin Phrases Every Boy Should Know, Books Every Boy Should Read, Navajo Code Talkers Dictionary, and The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World). There is even a brief, two page section on advice about girls which might offend some, but I found quite amusing (for example: “Avoid being vulgar. Excitable bouts of windbreaking will not endear you to a girl…”).
I have spent quite a few evenings reading this book in bed, and have learned a lot. It is really fascinating to me! The book is too advanced for my just-turned-5-year-old boy and also for my 6-almost-7-year-old-girl. We could maybe try a few of the activities together, but they won’t be reading it cover to cover for a while yet.
When they are older it will definitely be a fun reference for them. We’ll skip the sections on “Hunting and Cooking a Rabbit,” and “Tanning a Skin,” but some of the other information and activities will be perfect later on down the road.
The whole point is simple: kids should be out in nature and experiencing life, not sitting in front of a screen. The aim of this book is to provide a little non-preachy inspiration and some fun ideas for things to do with your kids that don’t involve a screen or a joystick.
If you are at all concerned about the political correctness of the book, or the suitability of any of the suggestions or information, then I would advise you to check it out of the library before buying it. Make sure that you are comfortable with it and that it is right for you.
I, however, love it and think it will be a fun book for us.