The same day I picked up The Wild Robot by Peter Brown at the library, I also checked out My Teacher is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.) and Mr. Tiger Goes Wild. It seems strange to me now, but I had no idea the three books were written by the same person. I’d requested the first two based on separate recommendations and picked the last one off the shelf display because the illustrations were so fantastic. While I was busy laughing at myself for not realizing the books were written by the same author, my eight-year old was busy checking out the new books. “A robot can’t be wild,” he announced in that all-knowing way of oldest children everywhere. Normally, I would hand over the book and challenge him to read it and see, but I had other plans for this one. I wanted to read The Wild Robot myself because I’d heard it was beautiful and touching (two words I don’t generally associate with robot stories). As it turns out, those adjectives were not inaccurate.
The book opens on the ocean, where a hurricane destroys a ship loaded with crates of robots. One by one the crates float through the sea and smash on the rocks of an island coast, until only one robot remains in a dented (but mostly intact) crate. A curious romp of otters ends up unintentionally activating the robot, and Roz’s (officially ROZZUM unit 7134) existence as a wild robot begins. The rest of the novel follows Roz as she adapts to the island and befriends the animals there. The story reads like equal parts island survival drama (which I’ve loved ever since first reading Island of the Blue Dolphins as a child), exploration of the limits of artificial intelligence, and story of unlikely friendships. There’s drama, heartwarming relationships, and a bit of humor. The ending was fairly open-ended and left me wondering if there will be more books about Roz or the inhabitants of her small island home.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fantastic illustrations scattered throughout the book. The black-and-white drawings range from two-page spreads to smaller pictures in the middle of full paragraphs. I loved the way the illustrations were seamlessly incorporated in the storyline. They aren’t as much of the story as in something like The Invention of Hugo Cabaret, but for any reader who still enjoys a glimpse of the characters and world (so pretty much everyone), they are a beautiful bonus.
So here I am admitting that I was only casually aware of Peter Brown’s work until a few weeks ago. Thanks in part to The Wild Robot, I am now a huge fan. I’m planning to use it in school this year, but I haven’t decided the direction I’d like to go. I’d love to hear from anyone incorporating it in a classroom this year.