I generally try to keep evidence-based information on one “side” of the SquintMom site, and bloggier things on the other side. A book review would typically go on the blog side, but in this particular case, the concept behind Baby Unplugged and Blue Manatee Press is so well supported by scientific evidence that it’s going on the evidence-based parenting side.
The Baby Unplugged concept was developed by Dr. John Hutton, a pediatrician whose stated mission is “Uniting science and sense to be screen-free until age 3.” In addition to his blog, Dr. Hutton writes books and owns Blue Manatee Press, which publishes both his books and those of selected authors whose work espouses the same principles. The Blue Manatee Boxes storefront sells books from Blue Manatee Press and other publishers; the distinguishing feature of the business is that the books come packaged in an awesome, low-tech, plain ol’ cardboard box filled with biodegradable packing noodles, a sponge, a green crayon, an instructional insert that encourages creative play and environmentally sound behavior, and (of course) the books. As far as the packing noodles go, they’re pretty fabulous for two reasons. First, they’re much “greener” than styrofoam. Additionally, though, kids can use them to play. They break down when exposed to lots of water, but just a little bit of water — applied with the conveniently included sponge — makes them perfectly sticky, explains the instructional insert:
As for the green crayon, the box insert suggests using it to color the box like a turtle shell for playing dress-up. Of course, there are lots of ways to use a box and some packing noodles, and the idea behind the insert is to provide inspiration for kids and parents who need a little help getting their imaginations fired up.
Once everyone’s done playing with the box, it makes a great biodegradable planter, explains the box insert. I love this idea; W’s really into garden stuff, and I’m planning to let her plant flowers in the box, watch them grow inside for a while (where they’ll be sheltered from the still-blazing-hot sun), then plant them — box and all — in the garden, where the box will break down.
As much as W and I love the Blue Manatee Box and its packing noodle contents, we love the books that were inside even more. We got three of Dr. Hutton’s books (Ball, Pets, and Yard), and one book by Sandra Gross and Leah Busch called Toast To Counting, also published by Blue Manatee Press. Hutton’s books feature simple language and illustrations, and all share the same basic message: playing and being creative (and active) is way, WAY cool. From Pets:
W enjoys all three of Dr. Hutton’s books, but Pets is definitely her favorite. We got two cats (the first pets we’ve ever owned) about three weeks ago, and she’s absolutely in love with them. She gets a kick out of reading about other kids and their pets.
Toast to Counting is a little different; there are no words at all until the last page of the book. Instead, the pictures speak for themselves (and parents can make up their own words, which makes the book ultra-interactive). In the book, a piece of bread becomes a cute little face with egg eyes, a butter nose, and so forth, where each piece of the face added to the toast introduces a number (1 piece of toast, 2 eggs, etc):
As an awesome bonus, the images in Toast To Counting are all made of glass; the authors, in addition to being teachers, are glass artists. Neat!
Both W and I are now committed fans of Blue Manatee Boxes/Press and Baby Unplugged for their pro-environment business practices and their fun-to-read books that encourage open-ended play. The back cover of each of Dr. Hutton’s books sums up the message of Baby Unplugged nicely:
I think a Blue Manatee box is going to be my new go-to birthday gift for toddlers!
For the purposes of writing this review, I was given four books from Blue Manatee Press. All opinions are my own.