Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Little Robot Ben Hatke

Little Robot 
Ben Hatke 

Published by: First Second
Copyright/Publication Date: September 1, 2015
Format: hardback
Pages: 144

Genre: Children's Fantasy Age Range: 6 - 9
Source: purchased book

From the cover:
Life outside the robot factory is confusing. 
Little Robot has a lot to learn ...
And that's what friends are for. 
But with danger on the way, will friendship be enough to save them? 

Ever since my children and I found the Zita the Space Girl books, Ben Hatke had been on my auto-buy list, so it was a lovely surprise to find a new book by him in the mailbox this morning. As soon as I open the box my son grabbed the book, but before he got a chance to read it my daughter grabbed it and read the whole thing before camp. It was kind of fun listening to her giggle and gasp as she read. She was pretty much totally focused on the story.

I wasn't able to get my hands on the book until just now. Ben Hatke has a lovely, distinctive style of artwork - it somehow manages to be simple with bright appealing colors while at the same time incorporating a wealth of tiny details that convey nuance and depth.

where you can see a chunk of the book

In Little Robot, a young girl (too young to go to school) tumbles out of her trailer home and spends her days exploring. One morning she finds a tool belt and then a robot in a box. She activates the robot and they become friends. Eventually however the robot wants to find others of its own kind, threatening their friendship.

The text is sparse - pretty much all very short pieces of dialogue or sound effects. The story, however, is pretty deep and possibly a bit disturbing for young children since it is about loneliness and being different as well as friendship. It has the same edgy/gritty feeling that the Zita books do. I can see why my daughter was totally absorbed (through it turns out she was mostly worried about the cat). This is the sort of book you have discussions with your children about because there is so much going on.

I love that the little girl is a strong character and great with tools (though as a parent I am totally freaked out at the idea of a little girl wandering around a junkyard alone and barefoot). The little robot has a distinct personality, as does the "bad robot" (as dubbed by my daughter). The story is definitely moving but it is a little hard to discuss in detail because I don't want to give the story away.

As I mentioned, the book inspires conversation.  My daughter spoke about it at length this morning. She wanted to know what the robots were for, since there isn't any context here. She even went back and re-examined the truck to see if she could figure it out. There are lots of off-skew pieces of information (like that fence) that make you really wonder about what is going on in the wider world - some nifty bits of worldbuilding for a 144 page book with very little text.

Several other questions might also come up - like why is this girl alone? And is the ending a happy one?

Sorry if this review is a bit disjointed. I am still thinking about the story and my reactions to it. I know that my daughter liked it quite a bit. I do too, but unfortunately I also have an adult perspective too which make me uneasy about parts of the story - which is probably a good thing. Some seriously unexpected depth here.

We have re-read the Zita books multiple times and I have the feeling that this book will also have repeat visits. If you liked Hatke's previous work, you are going to want to pick this book up too. Recommended.


  1. I know what you mean--though I liked the book very much, I kept worrying about tetanus the whole time!

    1. OMG - I wasn't even thinking of tetanus. I was just thinking of lacerations and all the potential damage to her poor little feet. I think I was blanking out tetanus because when I was a kid I accidentally stepped on a nail walking in an alley - it went through the sole of my shoe, through my foot and poked out the top. I had to go get shots - it was rather traumatizing at the time. Now I am even more worried about our brave protagonist!

      OTH - my son it turns out, at 12, was also very worried about the cat and wanted to know what the robots are for. It's so interesting how differently a child views things verses an adult.


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