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Little Robot: 04/12/16

Little Robot by Ben Hatke

Little Robot by Ben Hatke is a graphic novel tale that reads a bit like a warm snuggly mash up of Lilo and Stitch and the Rust series by Royden Lepp.

A little girl crawls out of a window and walks along a dirt path that leads to an old dump or perhaps an illegal dumping site. There finds a robot who has fallen off the back of a truck on the road above. Through some combination of curiosity, ingenuity, and luck she manages to activate the robot.

The girl walking through the dump.

In the early chapters she's trying to teach him how to work and how to talk. If he breaks something, she tries to fix it. When he appears lonely, she tries to make friends for him. Her first attempts aren't successful, though.

Later she has to step up to help protect her new friend from retrieval robots. If they have nefarious reasons isn't never stated but these robots do play the role of the antagonists in this otherwise quiet and charming book. Initially I read the book for entertainment. Ben Hatke remains a popular author both with children and with awards committees. Even if he weren't the author, I would have still be drawn to it, seeing a young girl of color sitting on a hillside with a robot at her side, and a wrench in her bag.

Little Robot in a car

What I didn't expect was for the book to fit in beautifully with my road narrative project. The meeting of the girl and robot is in the context of a junkyard along a dirt road. The girl finds parts to fix the robot, and later, build more robots (with help), from the discards in the dump. Later the abandoned cars provide solace and safety for the robot. In thinking in terms of Kenneth R. Schneider's Autokind vs Mankind the robot is the embodiment of micro mobility. The robot factory and the retrieval bots coming from an ultra clean, human-free environment are the near future nightmare of the self-driving and self-replicating vehicle, as seen in both Schneider's work and the shorter but equally memorable children's parable, The Endless Pavement by Jacqueline Jackson.

In the world of Little Robot, humanity is relegated to homes along the border of a junkyard. They meet and play amongst their discards. They hide from the robots. The robots meanwhile "live" in ultra modern buildings, drive along well maintained roads, and take advantage of the suburban dream.

Five stars

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