BOOK REVIEW: Robots

My 4-year-old is obsessed with robots. Our house is filled with them: Lego robots, drawings of robots, remote-control robots, nesting-doll robots, magnetic robots, etc. He builds robots out of our couch cushions (and freaks out when we put them back on the couch). Can you guess what he was for Halloween?

We also read a lot of books about robots. With that in mind, I’m kicking off my book review series with a few of the robot-themed books currently on rotation at our house. Before I get started, however, here are a few important words:

I will only review books that I think are worth your time. Reading to children is obviously wonderful for building literacy and bonding and blah blah blah, but it’s just no fun for parents when the stuff you are reading is making your eyeballs bleed. So all of these books are, in my opinion anyway, totally eyeball-friendly.

CLINK (2011)
Written by Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrated by Matthew Myers
Age range: 4-8

Clink is a rusty, outmoded robot in a world that values all things shiny and new. Some might call him “vintage,” but none of the kids who frequent the toy store where Clink resides are interested in a robot that plays music and makes toast. Until one day (SPOILER ALERT)… a little boy spots Clink and thinks he is perfect. The theme, like Clink himself, may be timeworn, but this charming book wins with gentle humor and a warm heart. Much of its appeal lies in the gorgeous illustrations: little ones will spend long stretches looking at the dozens of robots that populate the toy store, and parents will be rewarded with hidden jokes, like a robot named Holly Hang Up, which “jams your mom’s phone so you can get the constant attention that you deserve!”.

ROBO-SAUCE (2015)
Written by Adam Rubin (Android Rubot)
Illustrated by Daniel Salmieri (Salmatron 5000)
Age range: 4-8

There are no hidden jokes in Robo-Sauce – this book is unabashedly, in-your-face hilarious. The author-illustrator team of Rubin and Salmieri is one of my favorites, and I recommend getting all of their books right now (especially Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door, but only if you think squirrel wedgies are funny). In this book, a robot-loving boy uses the titular sauce to transform himself and his family members into robots. As the cover promises, even the book itself turns into a robot. (Full disclosure: it took me several tries to figure out exactly how that part works – my spatial skills are not great.) In addition to being funny and inventive, the book manages to work in a couple of twists, including the final illustration, which, as the mother of a robot-loving boy, I find particularly touching.

MORE OF MONKEY & ROBOT (2014)
Written and Illustrated by Peter Catalanotto
Age range: 6-9

As the “More Of” in the title suggests, this book is a sequel. I have not read the first book – we started here simply because it’s the one my kid happened to pull off the library shelf. Author Catalanotto makes the most of the monkey-robot combination, delivering characters that are as different in personality as they are devoted to one another. Monkey isn’t the brightest bulb in the box, but what he lacks in smarts he makes up for in enthusiasm. Meanwhile, Robot is the straight man, always rescuing Monkey from his messes and protecting him from disappointment. He does it with love, and he clearly admires Monkey’s joie de vivre. (Now that I think about it, it’s a lot like the parent-child relationship.) The characters are lovable, and Catalanotto’s dry humor is note-perfect. My one small quibble is that I find Monkey’s face a little… creepy. Don’t let that stop you from reading this, though. Just squint your eyes and imagine Curious George’s face and you’ll be fine.

BOY + BOT (2012)
Written by Ame Dyckman
Illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
Age range: 2-5

No aesthetic issues here – these two could not be cuter. This book skews a bit younger than the others, with sparse text and a very simple story, but my 4-year-old is still crazy about it. Unlike the boy in Clink, this boy meets his soul-bot on the very first page and adventures ensue. Boy and Bot spend much of the book misunderstanding how the other one works (Boy tries to feed Bot applesauce, and Bot tries to pour oil in Boy’s ear), but it’s all straightened out in the end. Thanks to this book, my son occasionally answers my questions with an “Affirmative” in a robot voice, and it’s pretty adorable. A note about the creators of this book: They are both awesome, and you should dig into their other work. We love  Dyckman’s Wolfie the Bunny, about a bunny family that raises a wolf. And Yaccarino (a Montclair resident!) is the author/illustrator of one of our all-time favorite robot books…

DOUG UNPLUGGED (2013)
Written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
Age range: 5-9

Doug is a robot. As you can see from the cover illustration, he looks a lot like a little boy with an antenna. He also happens to live in New York City – which, in Yaccarino’s illustrations, is a brightly colored, retro-futuristic world populated by both humans and robots. Every morning, Doug’s parents plug him in so he can download information and learn about the world. This book shows what happens when Doug decides to get out and explore the city for himself. He experiences a sensory feast, from loud fire engines and stinky trash cans to the cool water of a fountain. He also makes a friend and learns how to play. Doug Unplugged is all about the value of putting down our devices and getting (ourselves and our kids) outside to experience the world firsthand. Even better, it manages to make this point without being annoying or preachy. AND IT HAS COOL ROBOTS IN IT! In other words, it’s the perfect book for small humans and their parents.

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