Anytime Playdate by Dade Hayes

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Stars: *****

Summary: In this eye-opening book, the first to investigate the explosion of the multibillion-dollar preschool entertainment business and its effects on families, Dade Hayes — an entertainment expert, author, and concerned father — lifts the veil on the closely guarded process of marketing to the ultra-young and their parents. […] Going behind the scenes to talk with executives, writers, and marketers who see the value of educational TV […] On the other side, he brings in the voices of pediatricians and child psychologists who warn against [TV] […] Along the way, Hayes narrates the fascinating evolution of Nickelodeon’s bilingual preschool gamble, Ni Hao, Kai-lan, from an art student’s Internet doodles to its final product: an educationally fortified, Dora-inflected, test audience-approved television show. It tells us why the raucous Dora the Explorer has usurped Blues Clues for preschool primacy, why the Brit hit In the Night Garden won’t follow Teletubbies into American tot stardom, and why the comparatively quiet and wholesome Sesame Street has reigned for decades. [read full summary here]

I picked this up at the library in the new book section. I flipped through it and saw discussion of actual preschool shows that my children watch which really intrigued me. I loved how the book showed both sides of the babies/preschoolers and TV debate instead of just saying TV is bad.

The book used some words and phrases that I wasn’t familiar with like “start-and-stop sonic rhythms” and “casio-synthesizer incidental music.” I think there were a few parts where it would have been better if it was explained in simpler terms, but for the most part it was fine. there were also words that I did understand but some readers may not, depending on reading ability: “mimicry, verbatim, emphatic etc…”

I learned about how Dora came to be. Did you know she started out as a non-Latina raccoon? I didn’t. It was very interesting to learn about the processes that shows go through from idea through to finished show. There is so much more to it than I ever thought. As stated in the summary, the book was written before Ni Hao, Kai-lan was created and follows it through all the steps, showing each in much detail. I specifically found the parts about how focus groups are held with preschoolers very intriguing. Pages 105-111 is all about focus groups for Ni Hao, Kai-lan.

Pages 78-79 talks about mimicry (the act of imitating closely.) Raise your hand if your child has said one of these sentences:

a) “Who do you ask when you don’t know which way to go?” “MAP!”
b) “A clue! A clue!”
c) something similar from a tv show

Many parents worry that it’s not good if their child is repeating word for word many things they hear on TV, as if they aren’t thinking for themselves or something. However research suggests differently:

“…research that suggests that mimicry, known to be a fundamental development tool throughout the animal kingdom, plays an important part in unlocking toddlers’ imaginative powers.”

Think of other times your child uses mimicry:

“[Paul L.] Harris shows, they will adopt a “mommy” tone and tell their dolls to go to sleep, or even when playing with another small child, they adopt a “baby” voice and ask their friend if they can go to the bathroom. In other words, mimicry simply allows a child to manipulate the world during exploration, and the inherent ego centrism of the child will always allow them to shed a role easily.”

Every time a TV show is mentioned, it’s shown in italics which was helpful. There were references not only to Dora and Ni Hao Kai-lan but Blues Clues, Sesame Street, Super Why!, Curious Buddies, Go Diego Go, Wonder Pets, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Elmo’s World, Yo Gabba Gabba, Baby Einstein and lots more.

I realize Anytime Playdate is not a book that everyone would be into but if you love nonfiction, have a child under 5 that watches television or are otherwise interested in the preschool entertainment boom, this is your book.

Here is a long interview with Dade Hayes regarding his book and the book’s topic. I’ll be honest, I didn’t watch it. (45 minutes)

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About Kathleen

I've been a nonfiction lover for as long as I can remember. I love children's nonfiction as well and love to share my knowledge and the books I gained them from, with the world. I wish more people would give nonfiction a chance.