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The Wild Robot by Peter Brown, 269 pp, RL 3

My favorite kid's novel of 2016


You may know Peter Brown as the illustrator, and often author, of many wonderful picture books, including the brilliant, Children Make Terrible Pets. Brown has written his first novel, The Wild Robot, and it is phenomenal. As I read the first page to myself, I thought, "I HAVE to read this out loud to my students." I knew they would love it as much, and as immediately, as I did, but I also knew that this book would make us all think and talk and ask questions, and it has. I stopped reading, took the book to school, and read it out loud to first and second graders the next day. But I could not wait to finish it. At home, reading before bed, I pored over the pages, stopping often to think to myself, "Man, I love this book," and, "This book is amazing." When  I finished reading The Wild Robot I paused, took a breath, thought about it and then wrote a letter to the author, which is something that I do once or twice a year when I really am floored by a book. The Wild Robot called to mind almost instantly a book that I have long considered a top five favorite and one of the first books I reviewed here, Abel's Island, by William Steig. Both books feature non-human characters in alien environments, learning to survive and also learning what it means to be alive and what it means to be connected to others.

The Wild Robot begins with a storm at sea and a cargo ship losing its load. Some of this cargo, crates containing the Rozzum Unit 7134, reach and island where all but one are smashed against the rocky shore. Activated by a raft of playful otters, the robot becomes operational, springing to life, so to speak. The first several chapters of The Wild Robot follow Roz as her programming (Survival Instincts) kicks in and she navigates the island she has come to live on. The only environment she has ever known, she learns what she can about the island and its inhabitants, initially through observation. It is a wonder to read on as Roz experiences, observes, grapples and evolves.

Soon, the animals of the island take notice, and react, to Roz's presence, as benign as she is, and yet another fascinating layer to this story unfolds. Roz is alien and the animals shun her, but she still manages to continue to observe and learn from them. She tries to connect with them, but most attempts fail. Until she unwittingly orphans a goose egg. Roz takes it upon herself to see that this life, too, does not end. For this, she needs the help of her island animal community. And for this, they, sometimes grudgingly and often with a barter in mind, come to her - and the goslings's - aid. Roz evolves, from alien to parent to protector and unifier. Her presence on the island disrupts the natural world and possibly changes it forever, and that is something else to think about.

Brown does not shy away from the brutality of nature (although he is gentle with his presentation) or the brutality of humans (here, not so gentle - parents of sensitive children be forewarned) and for this I love The Wild Robot even more. The Wild Robot is a book you and your children will  ever forget.


Source: Purchased


Books by Peter Brown!



 


















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