by Peter Brown
I\’ve enjoyed quite a few of this author\’s picture books with my youngest, so when I saw he had written a chapter book (for middle grade readers) about a robot that interacts with wildlife, I was definitely intrigued. The story is fairly straightforward: a cargo ship wrecks in a storm, and of all the crates that wash up on the island, only one is intact. It contains a robot, packaged new from the factory. The robot\’s first awakening is when an animal accidentally turns her on. She has never known any other place- but the island is a hostile environment for sophisticated machinery. The robot (nicknamed \’Roz\’) has been programmed to assist humans, but must adjust to her life on the island. Roz has an acute sense of survival, and also the ability to learn from experience. The wild animals, for their part, have never seen anything like her. She is immediately labeled as a monster. It takes her some time to shake free of that stigma and integrate herself into the life of the island.
This book has a lot of great stuff going on. The contrast of technology and nature. The clever adaptability of the robot (whereas a lot of the animals are much slower to let go of their assumptions and trust Roz). The big question of what defines life. Roz can learn, she needs to take in energy and to rest, she can show compassion, she can be destroyed- but she\’s not alive. This baffles the animals. She even takes on motherhood, raising an orphaned gosling- you can imagine the awkwardness of some scenes- a goose raised by a robot who can\’t even get wet! By the end of the story, Roz has gained the admiration of the animals on the island, even the bears who at one point were her worst enemies. So when the company that lost the cargo ship discovers her location and comes to retrieve their property, the animals all rally in her defense.
I really liked reading this story, I just wish I loved it. The interplay of nature and the computer-brained robot is really cleverly done. It does a good job of showing how the lives of the different species on the island are dependent on each other, how the ecosystem is balanced and parts are thrown off by Roz\’s presence. I think the robot aspect would get a lot of kids reading this book who aren\’t necessarily interested in nature or animals- and it does teach a lot of facts about wildlife (although I was a bit irked that some were very stereotypical- birds singing to greet the day, for example). The ending has a lot of heightened drama- which I\’m sure will appeal to kids but I found it a bit tiresome. I really like Peter Brown\’s artwork in his picture books, and this one has plenty of interior illustrations, but they\’re all black-and-white which I found a tad disappointing. Just doesn\’t appeal to me as much, when it\’s monochrome.
There\’s a sequel; I\’ll be looking for that one. I borrowed this book from the public library.
Rating: 3/5 277 pages, 2016