Robot Dreams written and illustrated by Sarah Varon, 208 pp, RL 3

First reviewed on 5/26/10, Robot Dreams made me an instant Sara Varon fan. I discovered this wordless graphic novel in a library and had to own it. I love robots, but even more than that, I love the worlds and the characters that Varon creates. Her work is always thoughtful, funny, and a little bit weird and her palette is always colorful but calm, depicting a world I'd be happy to visit.

Sara Varon, who's website is called chickenopolis, is a master of simplicity, and for some reason (maybe the fact that my life is filled with kids, husband, dogs, turtles, rabbits, work, blog, all that other low-grade chaos??) I am always drawn to a simple story illustrated with crisp, clean lines and gentle colors. Robot Dreams has all of these qualities and more. On top of that, Varon, who's other (traditional picture) books include Chicken and Cat and Chicken and Cat Clean Up, rarely employs word in her stories. Really, I need to add Robot Dreams into the piece I wrote, How to Read a Picture Book Without Words.

The plot of Robot Dreams is best described on the fly leaf of the book, "Although its adorable characters and playful charm will win over young readers, Robot Dreams speaks universally to the fragile nature of friendship, loss and redemption." This sounds pretty intense and the adult reader will appreciate the nature of the story in which a dog mails away for a robot, builds him, takes him for a swim at the beach then, after he has been rusted into immobility at the end of the day, leaves without him. It's not really clear if this is intentional or not, nevertheless, the Robot spends most of the next year, from August to June, on the beach. The months pass, the Robot dreams, the dog goes on with his life.

The Robot's dreams are sometimes fanciful: he befriends a flower and they walk arm in arm through a green field, sometimes prophetic: he makes his way back to the dog only to find he has a new robot friend. The dog also has good times and bad. He takes a day hike with his duck friends. He builds a snowman, befriends a penguin and the three of them visit a ski lodge and have a great day snowshoeing and eating ice cream. He also has his bad times and sad times. At halloween, a cat in a robot costume reminds him of the friend he lost. In spring, the penguin returns to visit the dog, bringing him the hat, sweater, scarf and carrot nose that was the snowman.

But, things improve for both the dog and the Robot by the end of the book. The dog builds a new robot, takes him to the beach and, in addition to keeping him out of the water, oils him well. The Robot, who has ended up in pieces in a junkyard, is uncovered by an inventive raccoon who takes him home and integrates him into a boom box and the two have a dance party, as well as what looks like a pretty nice life together, as the illustration on the left shows.

The completeness of Robot Dreams, along with the happy ending for both the dog and Robot, despite early troubles, is what endears this book to me. I think Sara Varon is a fabulous storyteller and a wonderful illustrator and I can't wait to see what she does next. For a very interesting, creative, exchange between a young artist (and participant in the Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council) on her way to college and Sara Varon, click for the illustrated interview.

Don't miss Bake Sale and Sara's newest graphic novel, a collaboration with Cecil Castellucci, Odd Duck!

Sara Varon is also the author of these wonderful picture books starring urban friends, Cat and Chicken.

Chicken and Cat by Sara Varon: Book CoverChicken and Cat Clean Up by Sara Varon: Book Cover

And I just had to add these: Look at the amazing mural Sara Varon painted in the room of a friend's baby! I would love to have this in my own room...

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