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Little Robot

by Ben Hatke
136 pages / 2015

This is one of those little-girl-meets-little-robot, little-girl-loses-little-robot, little-girl-kicks-some-big-robot-tushy-to-save-little-robot stories. What sets it apart from all the others is that the first 26 pages are entirely wordless, and there isn’t much talking the rest of the way either.

The little girl, it turns out, is quite the amateur mechanic, so when she comes across an abandoned box and discovers a robot inside, she sets out to get it running. And she gets a little frightened when it does come to “life.” This little girl is also quite lonely, so once she overcomes her fear, she becomes convinced this is going to be her new friend.

However (insert ominious music here) she isn’t the only one interested in the little robot! His manufacturer has noticed he’s missing, and has sent a big bad robot on a search and recover mission. And this thing is massive – a semi-truck-sized beast that looks like it could eat trees!

When it swallows the little robot, it’s up to the girl, and some other new-found robot friends, to outwit the big robot bully and free her little buddy.

Cautions

At one point the big bad robot also swallows a poor defenceless kitty, but never fear, the fuzzball isn’t chewed up – it’s just inside, waiting to be rescued.

The only other caution would be the notion of robots as people. Kids’ stories have all sorts of anthropomorphism – cats can have hats, rabbits have swords, and trees might even walk – so is it a big deal if robots get this treatment too? No, unless kids get too much of it. No one believes cats, rabbits, or trees could actually become people, but they are saying that about robots today. The world misunderstands mankind as simply “meat robots,” and from there, it isn’t much of a leap to think robots could one day become “metal people.” But we are more than our meat – we are body and soul, and no amount of hardware or software will ever engraft a soul into a robot. And that’s a point that might be worth sharing with our kids.

Conclusion

The protagonist of the story usually gives you a good gauge of the target audience, and as this one is a little girl, girls would certainly be among those interested. But it’s also got robots, and robots hunting robots, which will appeal to the boys. And as a mostly wordless comic, it will also have some appeal for early readers.

It has a bit of tension, which could be a bit much for some in Grade 1, but for most in Grades 1 through 5, this will be a real treat.

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Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Mister Invincible: local hero

by Pascal Jousselin 96 pages / 2020 My dad wasn't a fan of superhero comics because he figured that Superman and Batman were too much like God-substitutes. And when you consider how many DC and Marvel characters are gods (Thor, Hercules, Loki, Odin, Eros) or are super-powered beings able to fight toe-to-toe with gods (Hulk, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, Iron Man, etc. and etc.), he might have been on to something. But Mister Invincible is not that kind of superhero. His superpower isn't laser beam eyes or invulnerability: he's just the only comic book character to realize he's in a comic book!  As Gene Luen Yang explained it in his own New York Times review: "He can poke his head past the borders of his current panel to see into the future or the past. He can pass objects and even himself from one panel to another, moving through time and space." This is such a brilliantly original work that there's nothing else to compare it with. And that originality makes it a hard one to properly describe. But I'm going to give it my best go. In the opening one-page comic strip, we see Mister Invincible, in the top row of panels, look down and notice that further on down (in his future) a lady and her little boy are being robbed. So, he jumps down a row to land on one of the clueless villains. Then, to take down the second bad guy he relies on an intervention from future him, from further on down the page. Future Mister Invincible is looking up (to his past) and shoots the robber's gun right out of his hand.... using the bad guy's own gun, which future Mister Invincible picked up from the ground because, as we just saw in the past, the bad guy dropped it. You might have to read that last paragraph a couple of times before it'll start making some sense. That's true to the comic, which also requires repeated readings to follow. Normally, that kind of confusion would make a comic annoying. But what's different here is that it all really makes sense – it's like a puzzle most kids will be able to decipher, but one that no one gets at their first go. Still don't quite get it? Let me show, rather than tell, sharing an excerpt of a couple of rows from one adventure. I've handed this comic to just about everyone who's walked into our house this last week, and for anyone under 20, it's stopped them in their tracks. They've sat down and just started reading and rereading. I think a lot of adults will enjoy it too – anyone who appreciates a good logic puzzle. Cautions There are some minor language concerns with the bad guy calling his minions "morons," "maggots," and "toilet monkeys," and a bratty kid calling one of the villains a "fat loser big butt." Not a lot of that, but there is some. Also, one of the villains reforms her ways from caring only about money to caring about the planet, and that care is shown with her, in just one panel, marching with environmentalists singing, "We've only got one planet." True enough, but that sentiment is often used to justify policies that prioritize the planet over the people (particularly the poor) living on it. Those two concerns are minor when the comics' intended audience is considered. The little kids who'd titter at the juvenile insults probably wouldn't be interested in Mister Invincible because its puzzling nature would be a bit above them. The only other concern is a practical one. I think this is such an imaginative work it should be in every school library but, unfortunately, there is a foldout page that might not stand up well to library usage. Maybe librarians can reinforce that page ahead of time. Conclusion The French original is called Imbattable or "unbeatable" which is a better descriptor than "Mister Invincible." It's not that you can't hurt him - he's not invincible. It's just that with his creative comic-crossing abilities, you can't beat him. And I don't know whether you can beat this comic. It is utterly creative and so much fun to read again and again. I'd recommend it for ages 10 to 110....