Unplugging with a TV Character?

I have to admit, I was skeptical that a book based on a TV character could promote “‘unplugging.” The entire concept seems to contradict itself. However, I was pleasantly surprised by Dot. Unplugged. It is published by Candlewick Entertainment and tells the story of the day one family is reminded it is the national day of unplugging after they lost power. Dot and Hal can’t play video games, Dad can’t use his computer, and Mom can’t work on her circuit board. Once they remember that today is a day to “unplug”—to find activities to do that don’t involve electricity—they decide to remain unplugged even if the power returns.

As a writer, I found Dot. Unplugged was tightly written and I took away powerful craft moves. This picture book provides a strong example of how to approach a potentially “preachy” topic from a unique point of view—the family dog, Scratch! Scratch provides a lovable entry point because kids can relate to Scratch’s desire to play. The reader can’t help but feel sad for Scratch when everyone is occupied with electronics. Scratch also allows the writer to quickly move from one room of the house to the next and introduce the reader to all of the characters in the family in the first quarter of the book. Scratch makes me consider how my own characters help to move the plot.

Scratch is the main character at the beginning of the picture book, and is woven throughout the story, but is not the main character from the TV show Dot. The book uses Scratch, Dot, and the rest of the family to weave more than one story arc together. In only 488 words, the story solves three separate problems—Scratch is able to spend time with the family, the family finds an entertaining activity, and they manage to have fun despite the rain storm! I love that the family is able to fix the power outage, but still chooses to remain “unplugged” not once, but twice!

I also admire the variety of sentence length throughout the book. On some pages, where the author is building background information or moving the story along, there are longer sentences and more description on the page. But the two most important pages—the kickoff, where the problem propels the characters to make a change, and the resolution page—have the shortest text. The kickoff has two snappy sentences. The resolution is one sentence delivered within dialogue. Thinking about sentence length in relation to plot makes me want to pull out my current work-in-progress and jump into revision!

Although National Day of Unplugging was the first Friday in March, the book doesn’t name the exact date within the plot. Instead, it can be read at any time of year and would encourage readers to turn off electronics and spend time “unplugged.” Now, I don’t want to give away the ending, but I appreciate that the activity the family chooses can be easily crafted with everyday materials at home. It creates a resolution that can be recreated by inspired readers. Best of all, enjoying the book is an “unplugged” experience all on its own.

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