Picture books and fiction can be an interesting way to open up discussions surrounding technology. There aren’t that many titles featuring IT which is understandable as technology becomes outdated so quickly, but I have managed to compile a list of excellent books to use including a brand new picture book looking at the dangers of meeting strangers through the internet. I have also included books that have modern stories featuring a lack of technology; where access to devices or the internet has been suddenly cut off. This type of story is a great way to get students to imagine and discuss what life would be like without their phones, iPads, computers or TV.
Unplugged by Steve Antony
Blip lists all the fun things that she does when she is logged into her computer. However, one day there is a power cut and Blip trips and falls out the front door. She ends up finding how much fun she can have outdoors in nature. The illustrations are in black and white while Blip is on her computer and in colour when she ventures outdoors. Lots of discussion points here on the pros and cons of computers! Ages 3 – 7.
It’s a Book! by Lane Smith (Macmillan Children’s Books)
A very dry but funny picture book featuring a book reading monkey who is constantly interrupted by a tech savvy jackass (British children will most likely recognise this character as a donkey). The jackass interrogates the monkey about his book:
“How do you scroll down?” “I don’t. I turn the page. It’s a book”
“Can it text?” “No. It’s a book”
and so on
Eventually the monkey hands the book over and the jackass decides to translate the page he reads into text speak before getting completely engrossed in the story. It ends with the jackass telling the monkey that he’ll charge up the book when he’s done and the monkey delivers the killer final line “You don’t have to. It’s a book, Jackass”. Children will enjoy anticipating the monkey’s response each time and the story is a great take on the power of books. Ages 3-7.
Chicken Clicking by Jeanne Willis and illustrated by Tony Ross (Andersen Press)
This is a brand new picture book with rhyming text featuring a chicken who gets access to the farmer’s computer and proceeds to go on an online shopping spree. She buys a motorbike, a diamond watch, 100 handbags and a holiday in Spain before deciding to look for a friend online. After posting a photo of herself, she thinks she’s found the perfect friend; another chicken, or so it seems….A modern cautionary tale for ages 3-7
Dot by Randi Zuckerberg and illustrated by Joe Berger (Picture Corgi)
A much needed picture book that stresses the importance of time away from digital devices. Interestingly this book is written by the sister of Facebook founder Mark Zuckenberg. The story cleverly uses verbs associated with tech such as ‘swiping’, ‘surfing’ and ‘tagging’ and shows that they can also be applied to outside activities. Ages 0-5
PICTURE BOOKS FOR OLDER READERS
Little.com by Ralph Steadman
An off-beat book which follows the antics of the dot that lives in your computer. What happens to the dot when you switch off the computer? The story is quite surreal but that is nothing unusual for Ralph Steadman and the concept of the book is a great stimulus for imaginative talk and could be applied to a range of technology. All ages.
The Dragonsitter by Josh Lacey (Andersen Press)
This is part of a series aimed at ages 7+ which frequently feature on the shortlist for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize. Eddie is frequently tasked to look after his Uncle Morton’s pet when he’s away. Normally this would be fine but Uncle Morton’s pet is a dragon! The stories are told entirely through emails between Eddie and his Uncle Morton and feature frequent illustrations in the form of photo attachments to the emails. The dragon causes a lot of trouble and Eddie’s emails get more frequent and more desperate until Uncle Morton finally replies to simply say “Have you tried giving the dragon chocolate?”. It works! The books, apart from just being really funny reads, would work to introduce the class to different modes of writing.
The Worry Website by Jacqueline Wilson (Corgi Yearling)
Mr Speed sets up a website for his class where they can anonymously post their worries and get help from their classmates to solve them. Each chapter of the book looks at a different child’s worry. This story of an online version of circle time could be useful in prompting discussion on worries or on a more general theme of digital communication. Ages 9-11.
iBoy by Kevin Brooks (Penguin)
Aimed at readers aged 14+, this book has a really exciting storyline. Tom, 16, is hit by an object which has been thrown off a block of flats. The object is an iPhone and parts of the phone become embedded in his head. The shattered pieces give Tom extraordinary powers and hold the clues to a violent attack that happened on the estate. A very powerful story that explores the relationships between humans and the technology they have created.
Solitaire by Alice Oseman (Harper Collins).
Tori Spring is a 16 year old with more of a life online than off. She has problems at home and feels increasingly disconnected from her friends, so will she get involved when an online anarchist community called Solitaire starts to target her school? Ages 14+. This book was unbelieveably written by a 17 year old who is also very active on the internet so the style and language will definitely resonate with teenagers.
LACK OF TECHNOLOGY
Dunger by Joy Cowley (Gecko Press)
Set in New Zealand, Dunger follows a brother and sister who have been told by their parents that they will be paid $1000 each for spending the summer helping their hippie grandparents. William has already decided that he will buy an iPad with his share, but Melissa is more concerned about time away from her friends. Stuck out in the bush at their grandparents holiday shack, they soon have more pressing concerns when they realise that there is no power and no phone or TV reception. Through helping their grandparents however, they soon learn that they are capable of doing some pretty amazing things and thoughts of phones and iPads start to drift away. Will their new skills be enough though when tragedy strikes? Ages 10+
The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd (Hachette Children’s Books)
Written in 2008, this story is set in the near future where carbon rationing has been introduced to halt climate change. Everyone is issued with a carbon allowance card which gives you a very limited amount of points to use for everything. This means no flights, cars for emergency use only, only locally made food, hardly any heating, choosing between using the hairdryer or boiling the kettle. Would you choose your laptop over having a fridge? This book would will encourage lively discussion on imagining what life would be like on carbon rationing. The fact that this could be entirely possible makes it even better. Written in diary form by teenager Laura, this book is aimed at ages 11+ and there is also a following book, The Carbon Diaries 2017.
AND LASTLY, ONE BOOK THAT ACTS LIKE A TABLET
Press Here by Herve Tullet. This brilliant interactive picture book book begins by asking you to tap the yellow dot on the page – and hey, you’ve just made another dot appear on the next page. Now rub the dot on the left and you’ve made it turn red on the next page. By the end of the book you have lots of different coloured dots all over the page that you have pressed, shaken, tipped and blown on. All that’s left is to clap to make them bigger. Again. Keep going. Stop! Too big! Ok, press the white dot in the middle and then you’re back where you started. This is pretty hard to beat for an interactive book.