I have a deep and abiding respect for Patricia Polacco. Her books are outstandingly good and never fail to amaze me with their depth. Her stories are aimed at a slightly older audience as they tend to cover serious subjects and are wordy for picture books, but they provide wonderful learning lessons for children in the form of a story.
The most recent Patricia Polacco book that I picked up is “Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Creek Dam Affair.” This book is a ringing endorsement for reading and a warning about allowing televisions to take over the world. This book was written in 1996 and could easily be updated to be about over-use of the internet, but the whole feel is exactly the same.
How much TV is too much TV? Welcome to Triple Creek, where the townspeople watch TV day and night. They watch it when they’re eating, working, playing, and sleeping. They even use TVs to teach the kids at school. Sounds pretty horrible, and yet, sounds like the direction we have been heading with computers instead of televisions. Everyone in Triple Creek loves television. Everyone, that is, except for Eli’s Aunt Chip, who doesn’t even own one.
Everyone sees Aunt Chip as the eccentric old lady who refuses to leave her house. Apparently, well over 50 years earlier she took to her bed and vowed never to get out of it again. She constantly railed that “there will be consequences.” What consequences? Well, it turns out that Aunt Chip took to her bed when a television tower was built in the town and when they closed down the library. Since then, the people of Triple Creek have lost the knowledge of how to read and instead spend all day staring at their television screens.
Eli loves his crazy Aunt just the same, and visits her almost every day. He is amazed when she tells him stories and wonders where they all come from. “Some come out of thin air. Some come out of my dreams. Some come right out of books!” Eli can’t understand how she gets a story out of a book because the town now only uses books as building materials. When Aunt Chip realizes that no one knows how to read anymore, she decides that enough is enough and gets out of bed. She is shocked when she wanders around town and finds that there are no children playing in the streets…they are all inside about to watch a TV show.The town is depressing and Aunt Chip has had enough. She shows Eli a book and teaches him to read. His knowledge starts to amaze his friends at school and he teaches them to read (along with Aunt Chip’s help). The kids start borrowing books from all over town, taking them from wherever they can find them. One day Eli pulls out a copy of Moby Dick from a large pile and accidentally opens up a floodgate of water which topples the television tower. As it starts to rain books, the town is finally given a sign about the importance of books and reading and the consequences of an addiction to television.
Understand, folks still had their TV’s, all right, but they were wise about what they watched and for how long. They had so much else to do!
Polacco, in her amazing way, urges parents and children alike to open their eyes to how bad an addiction to technology can be. She also shines a light on how spectacular the world of reading can be and how it can take you places and change the world around you. A ringing endorsement if I’ve ever seen one. To reading!