Hardcover, 144 pages
Published September 1st 2015 by First Second
Source: Raincoast Books
I read Ben Hatke’s Julia’s House for Lost Creatures and loved it so much that I immediately libraried Zita the Spacegirl books and read those too. So when I was asked to review Little Robot I was
extremely crazily very happy.
Little Robot is about a little girl who feels very much like an outsider and wanders her days out of doors almost invisibly until she comes across a little robot that fell off a truck during when it was being transported to a warehouse. This little girl, equipped with a utility belt filled with tools, switches the Robot on and he, in turn, becomes her first (and perhaps only) friend. Unbeknownst to them, the Robot’s absence has been noted and a retriever robot has been dispatched to find him.
The premise is relatively simple but the execution is complex and layered. The picturebook is mostly wordless but what it lacks in prose it more than makes up for in the very expressive art of the book. I’ve observed this about Hatke before but I’ll reiterate here: Ben Hatke’s art is warm and alive in a way that requires little accompaniment by prose.
The girl, a POC, is not given a name and I found this absolutely wonderful. Sit still and I’ll explain why. Many times the main character in any book for children is white and all children are supposed to find some parts of themselves reflected in the protagonist. Very rarely do we get a POC child and ask that all children find reflections of themselves in the POC protagonist. For Ben Hatke to take this bold step automatically makes this book a win for me.
Additionally, there is a friendliness to the art–perhaps it is the colour palette or the roundness of the main character, or even the details of the drawings–that won me over. Not that I needed much persuasion to be honest.
The little girl carries around a tool belt and is handy with the tools, fixing broken parts and making other robots. I loved her agency and I loved that she does not just react to everyone else’s reactions but actively pursues what she believes is right. Her personality transcends the medium is what I want to say.
The themes of friendship and isolation dominate the narrative. The discussions are largely silent and expressed in the art and perhaps that accounts for how much more impact they have. The little girl’s jealousy and reluctance to share her friend is expressed with as much sensitivity as is her gradual growth and eventual security in the little robot’s friendship and as such, her own worth.
I’ve always wondered that Ben Hatke could write such great female characters until I read that he has daughters which answered many questions. Little Robot’s girl is well fleshed out, flawed, and complex. The friendship between them is initially one-sided but it finally surpasses the language and, dare I say, species barrier. Little Robot would be a great addition to your libraries and make for wonderful gifts for children. Get it today.