Baby Unplugged Books: A Review and Giveaway!

I received a delightful package last week. Dr. John Hutton sent me the seven books in his Baby Unplugged board book series, each about a wonderful, old-fashioned piece of childhood: Pets, Blanket, Yard, Ball, Book, Beach, and Box.

BabyC and I read through the books together, and we both enjoyed them so much that I wanted to recommend them in a review and pass five of them on to you as a giveaway. We’re keeping “Yard,” because it is my favorite, and “Pets,” because BabyC chewed on it.

{You know I don’t do many reviews or giveaways. I’m selective about them – I only review books that I can truly recommend. Dr. Hutton sent me these books as samples, and I haven’t received any compensation for writing this review.}

Dr. Hutton is a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, the owner of an independent children’s bookstore in Cincinnati called Blue Manatee Books, and the father of three children. He’s also a passionate advocate for keeping childhood screen-free and encouraging good, old-fashioned play. He wrote and self-published the Baby Unplugged series of board books. You can read more about Dr. Hutton’s screen-free mission on his blog, Baby Unplugged (also on Facebook). He often writes about the science of play and research on the effects of screen time, so I am following his blog with interest.

I’ll get to the books in a minute, but first I want to tell you about how they arrived. They were packed in a special Blue Manatee box. When I opened the box, I was greeted by a piece of paper that read, in large font, “attention, grownup!” OK, box. You have my attention. This piece of paper reminded me to please not throw away or recycle this box, not just yet. It read:

“A mission of blue manatee boxes is to revive the notion of a box as an extension of its user – here the wondrous symbiosis of parent, child, and imagination. Thus, our team – including a pediatrician, art educator, and other childhood experts – have designed this “owner’s manual” to help revive the role of the humble yet robust box to inspire you to transform your box into a wondrously low-tech, unplugged, inexpensive, fun, safe, and stimulating developmental playground.”

Cool, right? Inside this box owner’s manual are all kinds of ideas for how to have fun with any box in your life. There are instructions for how to make a baby mobile and how to turn the box into a baby-sized car, tractor, robot, or box turtle. There are reminders that boxes can be turned into blocks to stack or used to play “peek-a-box” to explore object permanence. With the addition of a few kitchen spoons, the box can become a drum, also known as a baby beat box.

To inspire further creativity, the box contains non-toxic, biodegradable packing peanuts made of cornstarch. Lest you consider throwing those out, the owner’s manual reminds you that if you wet these with a damp sponge, you can stick them together to make your own packing peanut sculpture! And just in case you need a push to try that project, the box even includes a small sponge and a crayon for good measure. You all know that I’m already pretty open-minded about what can be a toy for BabyC, but these tips totally got me thinking about new ways to use boxes (and the packing material) for play with BabyC. Of course, at her age, BabyC knows exactly how to use a good box. She carries it from room to room, filling and emptying it. And then she sits in it.

Now, let’s get to the books.

The Baby Unplugged books, written by Dr. Hutton and illustrated by Andrea Kang, focus on real objects in children’s lives. These are objects that they have experienced first-hand and objects that they treasure. In “Yard,” we see bright drawings of birds and butterflies, sticks and trees, and squirrels and bees. They are things that are part of BabyC’s world, and it was impossible to read this book with her without stopping on each page to talk about the illustrations.

“Look, BabyC, it’s a bee! We saw a bee at the park this morning. It was buzzing in the flowers, remember?” She nods and says, “Bzzz.”

BabyC says, “Ock, ock!” and points to the next page. My goodness, I hadn’t even noticed the rocks depicted in the picture of a little boy checking out a seed (also one of BabyC’s favorite things to collect) with a magnifying glass.

She goes on to point out “ick” (stick), “boots” (on a girl splashing in a mud puddle), and “Bubba” (her name for our dog, who looks nothing like the dog in the book). This book seemed to be written for BabyC and her world. It was so engaging that it took us 10 minutes to read and discuss this short book.

The illustrations are colorful and creative and depict simple, recognizable objects. There are fun surprises for close observers: a bird about to nibble on a child’s picnic lunch, a snake reading a book, and a praying mantis wearing a backpack. I also appreciated that the children in these books are racially diverse. The text is sing-songy and fun to read:

“Rolling, running, holes are dug. Dirt plus water – gooey mud! Squirrels with acorns: Skitter! Zoom! Bees and ants help flowers bloom.”

The other books are similar in theme and scope: Familiar themes illustrated with simple pictures that encourage discussion. Children that treasure a special blanket will appreciate the “Blanket” book, which celebrates all the many different kinds of blankets in our lives. The “Box” book offers creative ideas for using boxes for play, similar to the box owner’s manual described above. And the “Ball” book depicts, in all shapes and sizes, this favorite toy and early word for new talkers. “Ball” is one of BabyC’s favorite things to identify in books we read, so she loved finding all of the different balls in this book.

I love these books and love their mission. In addition to being fun and engaging to read together, the text and illustration inspire play. There isn’t an overt anti-screen message in these books. They just show kids having fun in their world and encourage young readers to get out and do the same.

Who needs an iPad when you have a cardboard box and some good books?

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below describing a screen-free activity your kid enjoys. For extra entries, “like” Baby Unplugged and/or ScienceofMom on Facebook or subscribe to this blog, and leave a comment here letting me know that you did. The giveaway will close on Monday, July 16, at 8 AM. A randomly drawn winner will receive 5 Baby Unplugged board books, plus the Blue Manatee box, complete with owner’s manual, biodegradable peanuts, sponge, and crayon:) Sorry, but I have to limit entries to readers with a mailing address in the U.S.

What’s your kid’s favorite screen-free activity?

P.S. If you’re interested in reading more about why it is best to limit or eliminate screen time for little ones, check out my articles on this topic:

Babies and TV: New Media Use Guidelines from the AAP

TV, Tots, and Tired Parents: The Backlash to the AAP’s TV Policy

July 16, 2012: We have a winner! Congrats to Josette, whose “9.5mo’s favorite activities include crawling on and over our dogs, trying to eat all the things he’s not allowed to (shoes, dog toys, remote controls…), and “tasting” all his favorite books!” The contest is now closed. Please check out the Baby Unplugged website to order your own copies of these great books!

52 thoughts on “Baby Unplugged Books: A Review and Giveaway!

  1. My little boy loves to go for walks. We live in the country, so he gets to see lots of animals and enjoy nature at its best!


  2. Definitely my 10-mo-old’s fav screen-free toy would be balls! Although he likes books a lot too! He recently started kissing the pictures of cats in books that remind him of our “KeKe” (kitty)! :)


  3. Also, I already subscribe to your blog, but I also Liked you and BabyUnplugged on Facebook! :) Thanks for the oportunity!


  4. Taking anything apart (stacking toys, blocks in a box, unpacking her diaper bag, dumping out the recyclables, etc). Liked both on Facebook!


  5. Baby Boy is due any day now (c’mon, baby, get out!) but I expect once he is born and a little bigger he will love irritating our dogs and chewing on board books. Already subscribe to your blog, it’s great!


  6. Both my girls love to dig in dirt and sand. Inside my older daughter likes to “cook” in her kitchen and build towers out of her blocks. My younger daughter seems to enjoy putting blankets over her head and crawl around.


  7. My LO is 2 months and loves to look at himself in the mirror and look at mommy and daddy when we sing, talk and read to him! :)

    I am subscribed to your blog, and I just liked your facebook page! Love your blog, thanks for sharing!


  8. Pouring anything! If it’s too hot outside, I’ll put a beach towel down in our living room, get out plastic bowls, cups, and Tupperware, and let my 22-month-old pour water back and forth between them. A good dance party is also another entertaining screen-free activity.


  9. My 11-month-old loves cruising around the coffee table, stopping to drop blocks and then pick them up! Over and over and over again….. :)


  10. Oh my goodness – what awesome packaging! :)

    My 2-year olds most recent favorite screen-free activities are: play-doh or stickers, pushing her play grocery cart around & filling with anything she can fit, swings at the park, or the sprinkler!


  11. one of our many favorites is gardening. The kids choose the seeds and/ or plants, prepare their garden boxes, plant, water and weed. They LOVE when we grow new veggies – they play, stop, pick and eat! grins all ’round!


  12. I love it when everything is usable!

    Some of our favorite non-screen activities include digging in the dirt, going to the park, hanging out with friends, and dance party/ music time. recently my son has been all about balls and books (I have been waiting for this moment for quiet some time so I am super excited when he brings me a book to read.)


  13. Love your blog!!! I have been your follower in twitter, facebook and your suscriber for some time. And now I “liked” unplugged baby (I loved your article and I am looking forward to read with my 19 month toddler the books!!! I love love love reading my self and am very happy to see that she has the same love for book. She likes “reading” by her self and to be read as well.

    She has had a lot of “unplugged” favorite activities: singing, make me sing, dancing, etc. but her favorite activite at the moment is to open the drawer of her dresser and “try to try-on” her clothes. She is not able to dress herself yet obviulsy, but she spends a lot of time playing to put something on, any way she can. I love to watch her!!! My clothes and my closet is a second favorite.

    Hope to win and looking foward to reading your next article.


  14. My 16-month-old loves to make me and her daddy laugh (she makes faces, hides around corners, etc). She also asks to see my belly button (I’m 7 months pregnant) and shows me hers a good half-dozen times each day. She’s pure joy!


  15. The books sound great, but the box sounds wonderful.
    Boxes of all sizes are such great fun for kids of all ages. One of the best we had when the children were young was the one around the washing machine. With a window cut in it, and a taped on piece of cloth it was a stage for all sorts of puppet performances.


  16. My kid’s favorite activity is playing Chase Me Chase Me around the living room. This is pretty hard on us oldsters, though, so he doesn’t get to play it as much as he would like (which would be all the time). He also always has a couple of cardboard boxes around to climb in and on, and to put things into. (PS — I’ve liked your FB page, and I was already a subscriber.)


  17. My 9.5mo’s favorite activities include crawling on and over our dogs, trying to eat all the things he’s not allowed to (shoes, dog toys, remote controls…), and “tasting” all his favorite books! I also liked your and Baby Unplugged’s Facebook pages.


  18. My 21 mo old LOVES anything to do with water these days – take a few buckets and containers outside, turn on the hose and he is set! We found this particularly handy when camping as we didn’t have to pack extra toys – he’d much prefer playing with our dishes and “washing” them.


  19. When my 10 month old gets cranky at the end of the day and playing just proves too frustrating, I take her out on our street where the older children neighbors are playing. (We live on a very screen-free block!) Even though she’s too young to really play, she loves to sit on the grass and watch the older kids do their thing – scooters, bikes, Lego wars, etc. It’s like live theater for her! (I also liked both FB pages.)


  20. Thanks everyone for your entries and your great screen-free activity ideas! Just to clarify the rules of the giveaway, you get one entry for a comment and additional entries for subscribing to the blog or liking ScienceofMom or Baby Unplugged on FB. That only counts for new subscribers/likers. It’s just an extra enticement for new readers to stick around and see what else we talk about here on ScienceofMom. To those of you that have been liking and subscribing for a while – THANK YOU! You rock, truly, truly. You are the reason that I’m still blogging:) Love you all!


  21. My 3 yr old loves playing with her fabrics – we have a dress up box that has mostly just wonderful fabric. They can be tents, picnic blankets, dresses, capes…anything! My 5 month old lives swinging on the porch swing with me while we sing songs. Actually both love that because big sister loves showing off all the songs she knows.

    I’ve liked (loved, really) Science of Mom on fb for a while, and just added Baby Unplugged.


  22. My Son’s newest favorite activity is “telling stories”. He gives us a topic and we create new bedtime stories each night!


  23. My toddler enjoys water play with different size buckets and various toys (about 4 or 5) and he loves his arts from scrap craft box that I save for special occasions (like when I’m doing my hair LOL or cooking). This is a medium box that I have filled with safe kid-friendly recyclables and paints :)
    I am a new subscriber on your FB and Baby Unplugged.


  24. Water Play has got to be one of my {soon to be} 11-month old’s favorite activities whether that’s in the bath or chasing (crawling) after the dog’s water dish! (Just “liked” science of mom on facebook).


  25. I am so glad I found your blog and have enjoyed reading your posts. My son is 8 months old and while I won’t say that he has never seen TV, it happens only rarely. Having a baby has been good for us as adults, we rarely turn on the TV before 9pm and screen time on our various devices has dropped as well. We love reading with our baby. Also hikes are a big family favorite.


  26. Although my little one is very small (almost 5 months) I think this issue is very important and I think about it a lot!!! We already like to go to the beach with her and run her feet through the sand, and we just finished our first series of swim lessons (getting ready to visit her grandparents who live on a lake). She loves watching bubbles and getting massages too! :)

    Thanks Alice for your book giveaways! We didn’t win the How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm book but we have since bought it and appreciate your recommendations! Hopefully we will win this one! We liked Baby Unplugged on facebook and we have your blog in the bookmark toolbar so we can check it regularly. :)


  27. I liked your Facebook page – I am LOVING your posts. I really appreciate your thoughtful, thorough, and succinct research links/summaries, and how transparent you are about your own biases & parenting journey. Have already recommended your work to a few moms I know who are ‘science-y’ and looking for research references to inform their parenting practice.
    And for the love of boxes – have you seem the book ‘not a box’? Lovely. Box +imagination = endless fun. Thanks for the giveaway and all of your great work.


  28. My daughter and I really like going outside and watering/playing in the garden, walking the dogs, and reading. I was always leery of her watching too much TV, but I suppose I never made it a challenge for her and me to become as “unplugged” as possible. I don’t have a Facebook account, but I have forwarded your blog to several of my friends who are parents. I really enjoy what you write and appreciate hearing from another mother about parenthood in general. It helps too that BabyC is only a couple of months older than my little one. Thank you for your dedication to us. I know that time is so precious when you are busy living for someone else =]


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