Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

"And then came the last crate. It followed the same path as the others, but instead of crashing against the rocks, it sloshed against the remains of the first four crates. Soon, more waves were heaving it up out of the water. It soared through the air, spinning and glistening until it slammed down onto a tall shelf of rock. The crate was cracked and crumpled, but the robot inside was safe."

I love reading a book where I have an internal dialogue with the author.  All though The Wild Robot I was having a discussion with Peter Brown about his inventive plot choices.  Crates of robots wash up on an island after a ship wreck but only one unit survives - ROSSUM unit 7134 or Roz for short.  Roz sets about using her computer brain to make sense of her environment and find ways to communicate with the animals she encounters. Luckily for Roz this island has no human inhabitants.

"Once fully activated, I will be able to move and communicate and learn. Simply give me a task and I will complete it. Over time, I will find better ways of completing my tasks. I will become a better robot."

Readers can only guess the real purpose of a robot like Roz but she certainly has an important role on this island. Even though Roz cannot really feel emotions herself there are some very powerful emotional scenes in this story.  One example early in the story is when Roz accidentally falls down a cliff onto some trees and she smashes into a goose nest. The geese are dead and four eggs are smashed but one egg survives.

"The robot gently cradled the fragile thin in her hand. Without a family, the unhatched gosling inside would surely die."

The gosling hatches but Roz does not know how to care for him so she has to ask the forest animals for help.  They are all very suspicious of this monster and they find it incredulous that Roz does not want to eat them in fact she does not eat at all. Roz and Brightbill, however, seem made for each other. Roz has so much to learn, Brightbill is learning as he grows and their shared paths help forge their new friendship and lead to understanding among the other animals too. Roz brings 'human' things to the island such as fire, shelter and she even uses the skills of the beavers to fashion a new foot when hers is lost. Island life is hard but it does feel like utopia until the day an airship arrives carrying three RECOs who have been sent to claim the lost cargo.  Here is a shortened version of the first conversation with Roz.

'We are here to retrieve all ROZZUM units.'
'Where have you come from?'
'Do not ask questions,'
'Where will you take me?'
'Do not ask questions.'
'Why must I leave?'
'Do not ask questions.'

I said earlier there are no humans on the island.  For me this is an important point. Peter Brown is exploring the dynamics between a man made machine in this case a robot and nature. The inclusion of humans would have given us an entirely different story - possibly one that would not be so powerful or interesting.  This is a story with layers which at times feels like a fable.

The stage is set for book two which I am hoping to grab as soon as it becomes available next month.

This book would make a perfect class read-aloud. Here is a set of teachers notes. This review examines the way Peter Brown prepared to write his story of a robot in the wilderness. The School Library Journal also has a detailed review. Karen Yingling  interviewed Peter Brown for SLJ. I think this book is destined to become a classic - I do hope so.

I also enjoyed the way each chapter begins with italics and the generous illustrations which one commentator rightly suggested would look even better in colour.

Our story begins
As you might know
I should remind you

I do have a fascination with books about robots.  One of the books on my top book list is Eager by Helen Fox and the sequels.

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