‘Little Robot:’ Graphic Novel Review

One of the benefits of my recent focus on graphic novels and comic books is the opportunity I have to reacquaint myself with stories geared for younger audiences.  Of course, when my son was born (almost nine years ago now . . . OMG, don’t say the word DECADE . . . NOOOOOOOOO!), we spent untold hours reading all the classic children’s picture books.  Every once and awhile, though, I have to remind my mature, adult self why so-called “children’s themes” are still so relevant and important for adults.  So, while I wholeheartedly recommend Little Robot for your kid, I’m also going to enthusiastically recommend it for all the “grown-ups,” as well.

Little Robot is quite simply the story of a friendship between a little girl and a little robot.  There is adventure, mystery, misunderstanding, betrayal, heartbreak, redemption, and one seriously confused cat.  (Cats are not natural friends to robots, but, rest assured, no kitties were harmed in the telling of this story.)  I really don’t want to give even the simplest plot description to spoil the enjoyment of this tale, because it really is about discovery from the first page to the very end.  Suffice it to say that I saw myself, adult sensibilities and all, in the main character of this book and her journey to make and keep a friend.

Hatke’s protagonist is unnamed and, as such, is a wonderfully blank slate to whom any reader should be able to relate.  She is plainly dressed and lives in a trailer on the edge of a junk yard.  She sneaks out of her bedroom window instead of using the front door.  Her only association with an adult in the story is to sneak into the yard of the elderly gentleman next door to play on the swing set in his yard.  These are all little details, dealt with largely in the background, but hint at somewhat bleak economic circumstances on the fringe of society. 

Regardless of circumstance, the main character is optimistic, kind, and helpful, although not entirely unselfish.  We get the sense that she spends every day in solitary exploration of the junk yard and surrounding forest, so when she encounters the Little Robot for the first time, we understand the importance it has to her.  Her motivations from that point on are centered around keeping her new friend with her and naturally thrilling adventures are the result.

Both Hatke’s story and artwork bring to mind The Iron Giant and Wall-E.  He brings his characters to life through delightfully portrayed physical movement (human, feline, and mechanical alike), as well as giving us a wonderful sense of the beautiful natural world that surrounds them.  An overriding theme of the story is found in the juxtaposition of nature and technology . . . robots and animals, junk yards and forests . . . and Hatke does a seamless job of bringing the two together visually.

Ben Hatke is yet another author with whom I have had no previous experience.  I am instantly and permanently enchanted by both his writing and his art for all of the reasons I’ve talked about above.  I’m off to check out his other works, like Zita the Spacegirl and Julia’s House for Lost Creatures, and encourage all you kid-like adults out there to do the same.

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