“It is a rock, approximately two feet across. It is roughly textured,gray in color, but a portion of it is as flat and smooth as glass.From this surface comes a glowing light that is quite beautiful and pleasing to look at. The thing is unbelievably heavy, requiring six strong men to lift it. With great effort we were able to get it aboard and into the forward hold. We have set sail and are underway again.”
The preceding ship’s log, written by the captain of the Rita Ann, documents an extraordinary find on a deserted island. The story from which it is drawn, The Wretched Stone, is told exclusively through this captain’s logs. The reader comes to discover that the rock is a metaphor for complete distraction and even addictive behavior. The crew are so mesmerized by the glowing stone, that they lock themselves in the forward hold, turn into “hairy beasts,” and lose their ability to speak. Chris Van Allsburg wrote this picture book to raise awareness about children’s television viewership. Thirty years later, its message still has relevance for early childhood educators.
I am reminded of the picture book as I watch my granddaughter’s complete absorption in her mother’s iPhone during dinner. I marvel at the way her fingers deftly tap the screen, scroll through the videos, and manuever the apps with ease. I observe as she sings along and focuses intently upon the clips. I am surprised, however, how she resists each and every overture to bring her back into our conversation. I recognize that families might give a young child a cell phone to settle, calm, or entertain them so they can finish a meal in peace. These electronic baby-sitters are so mobile, and easily stashed in a pocket or tote.
I understand that young children are growing up in a technology saturated world, They seem to imderstamd the fundamental purposes of their parents’ iPhones and iPads, and even the ways to transfer videos to the home TV or car screen. I wonder, however, about the effects of this pervasive technology upon their language learning and literacy development. Have cellular devices become the “wretched stones” of the 21st Century? Or, are they tools with which to build the cognitive structures necessary for thinking, speaking, reading, and writing?
This book is great for starting a conversation about iPhone addiction, and the possible effects of their overuse.
The Book Teacher