Friendship, connection, danger, adventure, robots or creatures. These are things you can count on in a Ben Hatke book, and these are the elements that I look forward to experiencing through his particular perspective (and paintbrush) with each and every book. In his newest graphic novel, Little Robot, Hatke tells the almost wordless story of a little girl who finds and fights to keep her new friend.
A box falls out of a truck and off a bridge, making its way to a junkyard downstream. A little girl slips out of the window of her trailer home and heads off into the wilds/junkyard, shoeless, where she unearths her tool satchel. There she discovers the box and the robot within.
After getting the bot going, she helps it to master the art of walking. Together the two explore as she gently teaches the robot about the world around them. In a factory far away we see an alarm going off - a robot is missing. A massive, one eyed, multi-legged, yellow behemoth is seen trundling out of a hangar and into the distance. A capture, a rescue and a dramatic ending leave the little heroine with more bots and friends than before along with a very satisfying ending.
Being mostly wordless, Little Robot is so much about feelings and the sometimes wordless connection of friendship. Little Robot is a "meditation on friendship more than a lesson," as Hatke said of his book in an interview with EW. Hatke goes on to say that his heroine is, "a hero for the introverts and the makers." And, while this is a graphic novel about robots, junkyards and machines, the natural world is very much a vivid part of Little Robot. Hatke says that this scenery is "partially inspired by and informed by the landscape around my home in Virginia. The rural area in the Shenandoah valley." Amidst the green fields are forests are cats, birds, frogs, ducks, turtles and newly blooming flowers. There is a six-panel page where the girl and the bot come across a dead squirrel. "XoNX," the bot exclaims (the bot has a fantastic phonetic language, "Jonk," being its most frequent verbalization) and the little girl, completely at home in the natural world, reassures him, "It's just dead is all."
For a book with so few words, there is so much going on in Little Robot. But this is always the case with Hatke's books. His illustration style, color palette, characters and plots are good. That seems like a tired, less than celebratory adjective but I mean it in the best, truest sense of the word possible. If you have ever read Hatke's blog or had the immense pleasure of viewing his wife's Instagram feed, you will experience the well of goodness, from good living to good parenting and educating to good stewardship of and connection to the natural world, that Hatke's creations arise from and/or are fueled by. This is a good world that I want to live in and one that I want the young readers I teach to live in, even if we can only get to it from the pages of his books.
A new picture book coming from Hatke this year!
And a new graphic novel coming next year, maybe...