Ultrabot’s First Playdate by Josh Schneider (9781328490131)
When Ultrabot’s professor invites their neighbor Becky to come over for a playdate at their secret lab, Ultrabot is very nervous. He wonders if Becky will share or break his toys. He pictures her as an enormous furry dog-person with barrettes all over. But Becky turns out to be a little human girl. She brings a ball along with her and after some initial shyness, Ultrabot sees that they can share. The two played ball together, drew cats, and had sandwiches for lunch (with the crusts cut off.) They shared all of Ultrabot’s toys too, though afterwards the professor thought it best if they met at Becky’s house next time.
Schneider tells a very touching and funny story of a shy giant robot and his first playdate. Ultrabot’s emotions mirror those of a young child going to their first playdate or meeting a new person. The questions he thinks about, the worries he has and the resolution are all very human.
However, the illustrations show that this is still one giant robot who has toys like real airplanes, eats sandwiches made of girders and diesel tanks, and is able to do wild math calculations. The illustrations are wildly funny and set a perfect tone. I particularly love that the secret lab is ever-so-obvious and out-of-place in their residential neighborhood.
Funny and friendly, this is just right for any reluctant robot in your house. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Rabbit & Robot by Andrew Smith (9781534422209)
Cager’s best friend Billy and caretaker Rowan have taken him to his father’s huge cruise-liner spaceship orbiting the moon in order to break his drug habit. It was meant to be for a short period of time but while they are up in the ship, the earth with its thirty wars burns up. Now Billy, Rowan and Cager are the three last humans left alive with thousands of cogs (robots) around them to serve their every need. The cogs usually have one dominant personality trait and unfortunately that can be anger, glee, talkativeness or being constantly horny. As Billy and Cager explore the ship, they find that something strange is going on. Cager is certain that there are human girls aboard the ship because he can smell them. But even more interesting and perplexing, the cogs have started eating one another!
Wow. I fell hard for this wild and zany science fiction novel. It can be read as a rather sexual romp in space with horny robots and aliens intent on destroying the cogs. But Smith uses that tantalizing premise to really ask some deeper questions about humanity, about robots that are so close to being human that it may not matter any more, about love and about survival of a species that may be in its final version. Smith avoids becoming too didactic by continuing to have frantic and funny moments throughout from a tiger-eating giraffe with a French accent to Parker, the perpetually horny personal servant.
It is incredible that Smith keeps enough rein on this book as it strains to break free and become a farce at any moment. Yet he does, partly thanks to Cager, the lead character, who though he is spoiled and beyond wealthy, also has a straight-forward take on life whether beating a cog to death with a shoe or hanging cogs by the neck to save them.
A deep book hidden in farts, horniness and space, this is one incredible teen novel. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Simon & Schuster.
Nanobots by Chris Gall (InfoSoup)
A boy creates robots that are so small, you can’t see them with the naked eye. He calls them “nanobots” and starts to equip them for special jobs that only they can do. There are the Seekerbots that explore amoebas, Mechanobots that work fixing things, Helobots that stick together to make something new, Medibots that work in the human body to repair it, and many more. So the boy took the robots to the science fair where there was also a very large robot. The large robot though was not put together quite right and not functioning well. So the little nanobots rushed to help and repair him. Soon he was a huge and amazing robot that looked new! But would the nanobots still win the science fair?
Gall has created a picture book that will appeal to children who love superheroes and comic books. Filled with lots of details about each of the nano-sized heroes, there is a pleasure in just learning about each type of tiny robot. The story is eclipsed by the robots themselves, but it serves both as a structure for the book and a way to show exactly what an impact the nanobots can have out in the world.
Told with a broad sense of humor, the illustrations highlight the various types of nanobots. Each has a personality all their own with some being very hip and others more childlike. The illustrations are bright and colorful and have a throwback vibe to robots from the 50s and 60s that is very appealing.
Sure to appeal to fans of robots and comics, this picture book is smart and funny. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown (InfoSoup)
A ship carrying crates of robots capsizes in the ocean. Some of the crates float, only to be dashed on the rocks of a small island. One crate though survives and is left safely on the island. Some curious otters explore the crate and accidentally turn on the robot inside. That robot is Roz, designed to ensure her survival and help people. Soon Roz is exploring the island, climbing high on the rocks to see her surroundings. As she explores, the animals of the island declare her a monster and avoid her. Roz begins to acclimate to the island, figuring out how to camouflage herself. It is by sitting still and hidden that she starts to learn the language of the animals around her. As time passes, Roz is no longer gleaming and clean and she can speak with the animals. It isn’t until a deadly accident happens though that Roz shows the island residents who she really is.
This book is entirely magnificent. It is a book about nature, its beauty and grandeur and danger. It is a meditation on the outside, the power of it to change even a robot’s life. It is a look at the importance of listening and learning and finding one’s own way forward in unexpected circumstances. But most of all, it is a book about love and life and the way that finding someone to love transforms each of us.
There is something achingly beautiful about this book. Yes, there is more than enough action and humor to keep the book moving and of interest to children. Yes, the characters are brilliantly created and their relationships are drawn with skill and attention. Yes, its pacing is exceptional. It that ache though, that makes this book exceptional. The way that it is allowed to just be there, loneliness and acceptance, loss and love.
Truly an exceptional read created by a picture book author in his first foray into middle-grade books. Wow. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
Hilo: Saving the Whole Wide World by Judd Winick (InfoSoup)
This second book in the Hilo series is just as fresh and exciting as the first. In this book, Hilo and his friends DJ and Gina have to figure out how to save the earth from creatures who are appearing from other planets through strange portals. Luckily, Hilo quickly figures out how to zap the creatures back to their worlds, but soon even he can’t keep up with number of portals opening. Then there is also the question of Razorwark, the villain from the first book and whether he will be arriving through one of the portals himself bringing with him a potential answer about Hilo’s origins. I don’t want to spoil a single thing in this smart and funny series, so pick it up!
Winick sets just the right tone in this second book, managing to handily escape the sophomore slump and keep the series action-filled and funny. Though this book does serve as a bridge to the rest of the story, it also fills in many gaps for readers about Hilo and his friends. We are also introduced to a marvelous new character in Polly, a sorceress martial-arts cat. She is entirely kick-butt and ferocious, leaning into every battle that comes her way.
Winick does a great job with the art as well. His action sequences are dynamic and colorful. The portals themselves add a wonderful tension to the page, where one isn’t sure what is going to arrive next. Each character is unique and delightful to spend time with and once again I applaud Winick’s decision to have strong girls and diverse characters center stage.
A second book that continues to build on a great graphic novel series for children. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Titans by Victoria Scott
Astrid’s family has been destroyed by the Titans, mechanical horses raced at a track near her Detroit neighborhood. Her father lost everything betting on the horses and now they may lose their home. Yet Astrid also finds herself drawn to the Titans and spending time figuring out the math to create the best approaches to turns. So when Astrid meets a strange old man who has a Titan of his own, the first generation ever made, Astrid knows that she just has to try to ride it. It is up to Astrid now to secure the future for her family if she can only prove that a poor girl and an old horse can win.
Scott has written such a rip-roaring story. It is a book that will hook those who love horses as well as those who love racing. It’s a book that is science fiction, but a near future that is all too possible, where the division between rich and poor is even more strong than today and where impossibly complex robotic horses come to life. Even better, it is a world that makes sense for the reader, one with great appeal and a strong heroine to cheer for.
Astrid is an amazing heroine. She has a brain that thinks in mathematics and physics, naturally bounding ahead of others. And she uses it not just to ride differently than the others but also to face the horrible traps set into the race track that change from one race to another. Astrid is complex. She is deeply loyal to her family, yet does not tell them what she is doing. She also takes longer than the reader to fall for her Titan, something that works very nicely so that the reader is cheering them on together.
A riveting read that is compulsively readable, this teen novel has great appeal and will set anyone’s heart racing. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic Press.
Willful Machines by Tim Floreen (InfoSoup)
Lee is the son of the President of the United States, but he isn’t a teen who is particular positive or popular. A year ago, he tried to take his own life and now is left with a fear of heights. So when he sees a new boy at school balancing on his hands only inches away from the edge of his elite school’s waterfall, Lee is shaken. Later, the boy approaches him and the two become friends. It helps that Lee is immediately attracted to Nico with his Chilean accent and loud laugh. It’s an attraction that his ultra-conservative father will not approve of and one that his father’s national policies has made illegal. In order to get to know one another better, the two boys manage to lose Lee’s security detail a couple of times. But things at school are starting to get weird with one of Lee’s robotic creatures attacking him and a threat from a sentient computer program promising continued attacks. Lee finds himself at the center of the battle for robot rights as the robots begin to turn on him.
Floreen has set his novel in the near future. It’s a future filled with clever devices that keep people connected to the internet at all times, robots that are nearly flesh and blood, and one where terrorist attacks are created by sentient computers. He keeps a tight rein on the setting, an elite prep school where security is tight and the security around Lee is even tighter. This creates a wonderful claustrophobia as well as a paranoia about being watched and spied upon. It’s a great setting for this nail-biting adventure.
Lee is a character I adored immediately. I love his morose sadness and his unwillingness to display emotions unless he is feeling them. He is deeply grieving for the loss of his mother and his suicide attempt is an adept mix of tragedy and humor. He is honest through and through, a complete disappointment to the men in his family, and they don’t even know that he’s gay. Floreen incorporates that aspect of his character throughout the book. His romance with Nico is wonderfully hot and deeply romantic.
A great mix of LGBT, robots and science fiction, this book offers a bleak look at America’s near future with the spiciness of one hot romance. I’m hoping there’s a sequel on its way! Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from ARC received from Simon and Schuster.
Beep! Beep! Go to Sleep! by Todd Tarpley, illustrated by John Rocco (InfoSoup)
A little boy helps his robots get ready for bed. First, they are herded into the bathroom where they brush their rotors and clean their shields. One robot even tries out the toilet. Then down the hall and into the bedroom they go, each one on a shelf with a blanket. It is quiet until Beep! Beep! The robots all want things like drinks. Then back to their beds and quiet again. It goes on and on, quiet and then beeping until finally the boy loses his temper. In the end though, one bedtime book is all it takes to get the boy off to sleep.
Tarpley has created a modern twist on the normal bedtime ritual. Here a boy takes the place of the parent, keeping his robots in line and moving towards bed. The complaints of the robots are lovely, each a riff on a classic bedtime request for more water, more light, and finally a story. The book is told in rhyme, one that is quiet at times and then other times filled with zing and snap. The most snap comes when the boy loses his temper.
Rocco’s illustrations are gorgeous. The three robots, each a primary color, all have distinct personalities and the ability to show some emotions on their metal faces. The boy is a throwback to an earlier age in his classic striped pajamas, evoking the fifties along with the classic robots. The entire house too has a vintage feeling to it, providing a clever backdrop to the very modern robot theme.
A perfect bedtime tale for robot fans, this picture book is sure to have even the sleepiest robot or child giggling. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Robo-Sauce by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri (InfoSoup)
Everyone knows how cool playing robots is! Except sometimes your family doesn’t think it’s quite as cool as you do. So what if someone offered you a magic and scientific potion that would let you play robot in a new way? Would you make it? Well, the boy in the book does and turns into a giant robot. But even then, none of the humans want to play with him. But the boy has a solution, more sauce! Very quickly, the story goes out of control as robo-sauce makes its way through the entire book, transforming everyone into robots. Readers can even change the book itself into a robot theme.
The collaborators of Dragons Love Tacos return with this striking robot-themed picture book. Rubin has created an adult narrator who sets things into motion by providing the robo-sauce recipe. The book feels traditional and readers will be fooled into thinking that the boy will soon realize that he doesn’t want to be a robot but a real boy. Happily, the book takes an unexpected twist and becomes something altogether different. The narrator is along to voice their objections to the changes, making it all the more delightful.
The art by Salmieri is done in subtle colors except for the robot lights and sauce which are a vivid neon orange. They are friendly and cartoon-like, filling the book with a sense of merriment. Even the transformation into a robot is a grand adventure filled with wild noises. When the book transforms into a robot book, the pages have already been doused in neon sauce and the pages have a completely different feeling about them. Very cleverly designed, this picture book embraces transformation at a whole new level.
A great read-aloud, this robot picture book will transform your story time! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.