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BLIP! by Barnaby Richards is a fantastic new TOON Book at the essential Level 1. Featuring a robot, I was drawn to BLIP! immediately. The story begins on the endpapers as we a spaceship floating through the galaxy. "Blip," goes the ship. Until it goes, "Tchok!" when it hits a mountain on a planet.
The robot climbs out of his his ship and begins to explore, always saying, "Blip," sometimes as statement, an exclamation or even a question. Richards's planet is a strange one, filled with curious details that you will want to spend time with. The robot goes over land and under water, meeting all kinds of creatures, even a human.
Finally, the robot returns to the ship only to find another robot working on another ship! The two exchange "blips" and "bleeps" and head off, back into space.
Blip! is a fantastic introduction to the sequential art of the graphic novel and it is also (as are all the books TOON publishes) a superb example of what founder François Mouly started out to do in 2008 - created beginning readers with engaging illustrations and stories that are anything but boring.
In Can I Build Another Me? by Shinsuke Yoshitake, a young boy comes up with a master plan to avoid doing his chores: he spends all his pocket money on a robot to take his place. “From now on, you’re going to be the new me! […] But don’t let anyone know. You must behave exactly like me.”
But in order to be exactly like the young boy, the robot needs to know everything about the person he will be imitating. All sorts of questions, exploring everything from the boy’s physical characteristics, to likes and dislikes, via feelings and much more follow. Gradually the robot builds up a fairly comprehensive picture of what the boy is like, but will the master plan to avoid chores succeed or will Mum see through the robot straight away?
This very funny, marvellously philosophical picture book offers so many opportunities for thinking about who we are, why we behave the way we do and how we can and do change over time. It’s reflective and reassuring, creating a space full of laughter to talk about feelings, hopes and friendships. Every page offers lots of opportunities for conversations, at the same time as being full of acute and humurous observations about what it can be like being a child, trying to learn how to navigate your way in the world.
Yoshitake’s illustrations, often reminiscent of comic strips, with multiple panels on each page, are full of fabulous detail offering as much to pore over as the text does. Stylishly designed with just a few colours and a great variety of pace (some pages have lots of sections, others are given over to a single spread), the relatively simplicity of the line drawings allows Yoshitake’s fantastical imagination to flourish.
An empowering, laughter-fuelled, imagination-sparking, reflection-inducing delight, Can I Build Another Me? is meaty and marvellous, silly and serious all at once. A triumph!
We don’t ever really need an excuse for making robots out of junk. Nevertheless, we gratefully took reading Can I Build Another Me? as an opportunity to get creative with old plastic boxes and the glue gun, to create a few mini-me-robots:
Whether they are really just like us or not, they definitely have a sense of personality!
As well as making mini-me-robots, we made keepsake booklets about ourselves, inspired by the questions raised by Yoshitake in his book.
We really enjoyed filling them in, and I suspect they will be great fun to look back on in a year or more, to see how our feelings about ourselves and who we are has changed.
I learned a few things about my own kids as we filled in these booklets. “I can put a whole carrot in my mouth,” wrote M…., whilst J likes DIY and ceilidhs.
Creating a nesting doll set that looks like you – you can get blank nesting doll sets (google “blank wooden Russian doll set” for example, to find lots of offerings) and then paint them to show all the different versions of you there are inside your skin. You could do ones with different facial expressions, for example.
If you liked this post you might like these other posts by me, featuring picture books with a philosophical theme:
With the popularity of robotics programs in schools and community groups, interest in robots and robotics is high! If you’d like to add a technological flair to your displays or booklists, consider these fun titles with high appeal for a wide range of readers:
Boy + Bot is a sweet and funny story that highlights friendship, kindness, and misunderstandings. When Bot’s power is accidentally switched off, he attempts to re-spark Bot with applesauce and books. When Boy falls asleep, Bot tries to rouse him with oil and by reading aloud from his instruction manual. Luckily, an inventor steps in to smooth things over.
Hilo Book 1: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth was one of my top favorite graphic novel reads in 2015; I am anxiously waiting for the sequel to arrive soon! Two friends befriend a friendly, entertaining, but somewhat odd boy who has literally crashed onto Earth. The characterizations of the three friends are realistic, charming, and heartwarming.
Little Robot is another fantastic robot-themed graphic novel from 2015; this nearly wordless story features an African-American girl (who lives in a trailer park) and her newly formed friendship with a robot that has crashed into her industrial town. The two pals explore and go on many adventures until the robot factory searches for its missing robot. The little girl (who is not named) is strong, courageous, and inventive, adding much needed diversity and characterization in robot-themed books!
Finally, if you want a nonfiction read for young independent readers, Robots (National Geographic Kids) should definitely be in your collection. National Geographic Kids’s nonfiction readers are highly recommended (and highly popular) for their graphic design, clear writing, and high-appeal to both reluctant and ravenous readers alike.
Do you have any favorite robot-themed books? Discuss them in the comments!
The Wild Robot, a novel for ages 8 and up, is a departure from Peter Brown's usual offering of picture books (Creepy Carrots, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, My Teacher is a Monster - and more), but his customary excellence is just as apparent.
The link to my review is above, however, I'd like to highlight a few things. The Wild Robot premise is unique and thought-provoking - a robot designed with AI and programmed for self-preservation and nonviolence, is marooned on an island with animals, but no humans from which to learn. The narrator, Kate Atwater, does a stellar job (see review) and sounds a bit like Susan Sarandon. The audio book is unique in that the beginning and the closing chapters have sound effects including music and sounds of nature.
Raybot is Adam F. Watkins's second picture book and his second book featuring robots. The story and text of Raybot don't offer much. But bear in mind that this is my adult opinion. Having read this book out loud to a couple of classes of kindergartners, I can tell you that they all gave Raybot a big thumbs up. That said, Watkins's lavish illustrations come very close to making you forget the weak story. His painterly illustrations are rich with color and depth and his characterization of animals blends a gentle cartoonishness with largely realistic representations that are a delight.
Raybot is a robot who lives all alone in a junkyard. One day he discovers part of an advertisement for a best friend that shows a boy with a bone. The recipient of the bone is a mystery, as the corner of the page has been ripped off, but Raybot knows one thing: the friend who loves bones says, "Bark!" Raybot fashions a metal bone them heads off into the world looking for the creature that says, "Bark!"
As you might guess from the lovely back cover illustration, Raybot travels the world looking for this friend. His journey ends when he meets a parrot who answers Raybot's "Bark?" with a "BARK!" Even better, this parrot seems to have a friend of his own, a puppy. Raybot ends with a trite realization about friends coming in all shapes and sizes, the trio walking home together.
There has been much recent talk about a possible robot apocalypse. One person who is highly skeptical about this possibility is philosopher John Searle. In a 2014 essay, he argues that "the prospect of superintelligent computers rising up and killing us, all by themselves, is not a real danger".
Can a robot be conscious? I will try to discuss this without getting bogged down in the rather thorny issue of what consciousness –– really is. Instead, let me first address whether robot consciousness is an important topic to think about. At first sight, it may seem unimportant. Robots will affect us only through their outward behavior, which may be more or less along the lines of what we tend to think of as coming along with consciousness, but given this behavior, its consequences to us are not affected by whether or not it really is accompanied by consciousness.
Last night I had a lot of fun speaking at The Bookstall in Winnetka about the trends of 2015, 2016, and all the 2016 books I was excited about. Afterwards a bunch of us sat down for dinner and drinks and the conversation turned, as is natural, to robots. I had mentioned in my talk earlier that as a 9-year-old I had avoided any and all books that were potentially “meaningful” and that I sometimes have to fight that same instinct today. A little later we started talking about robots. To be more specific, we were talking about what happens when you replace a word in a book’s title with the word “robot”. That’s when it suddenly occurred to me that the books I had avoided in the past would have been far more palatable to my young self, had they contained a significant uptick in robots.
Julie of the Robots
Island of the Blue Robots
Robots to Terabithia
Are You There, Robot? It’s Me Margaret
Then I started thinking about adult titles. Again, robots have a tendency to make everything better.
– Moby Robot
– Robots and Prejudice
– Remembrance of Robots Past
– Robot in the Rye
The moral of the story is that I need more robots in my reading fare. Also, that silly season has officially begun and I need to start doing some more serious posts here.
For the record, I wouldn’t mind hearing some additional serious-books-improved-with-robot suggestions on either the juv or adult side of things. YA is also acceptable (after all, you cannot tell me Twilight isn’t cooler if the vampires are robots).
Friendship, connection, danger, adventure, robots or creatures. These are things you can count on in a Ben Hatke book, and these are the elements that I look forward to experiencing through his particular perspective (and paintbrush) with each and every book. In his newest graphic novel, Little Robot, Hatke tells the almost wordless story of a little girl who finds and fights to keep her new friend.
A box falls out of a truck and off a bridge, making its way to a junkyard downstream. A little girl slips out of the window of her trailer home and heads off into the wilds/junkyard, shoeless, where she unearths her tool satchel. There she discovers the box and the robot within.
After getting the bot going, she helps it to master the art of walking. Together the two explore as she gently teaches the robot about the world around them. In a factory far away we see an alarm going off - a robot is missing. A massive, one eyed, multi-legged, yellow behemoth is seen trundling out of a hangar and into the distance. A capture, a rescue and a dramatic ending leave the little heroine with more bots and friends than before along with a very satisfying ending.
Being mostly wordless, Little Robot is so much about feelings and the sometimes wordless connection of friendship. Little Robot is a "meditation on friendship more than a lesson," as Hatke said of his book in an interview with EW. Hatke goes on to say that his heroine is, "a hero for the introverts and the makers." And, while this is a graphic novel about robots, junkyards and machines, the natural world is very much a vivid part of Little Robot. Hatke says that this scenery is "partially inspired by and informed by the landscape around my home in Virginia. The rural area in the Shenandoah valley." Amidst the green fields are forests are cats, birds, frogs, ducks, turtles and newly blooming flowers. There is a six-panel page where the girl and the bot come across a dead squirrel. "XoNX," the bot exclaims (the bot has a fantastic phonetic language, "Jonk," being its most frequent verbalization) and the little girl, completely at home in the natural world, reassures him, "It's just dead is all."
For a book with so few words, there is so much going on in Little Robot. But this is always the case with Hatke's books. His illustration style, color palette, characters and plots are good. That seems like a tired, less than celebratory adjective but I mean it in the best, truest sense of the word possible. If you have ever read Hatke's blog or had the immense pleasure of viewing his wife's Instagram feed, you will experience the well of goodness, from good living to good parenting and educating to good stewardship of and connection to the natural world, that Hatke's creations arise from and/or are fueled by. This is a good world that I want to live in and one that I want the young readers I teach to live in, even if we can only get to it from the pages of his books.
A new picture book coming from Hatke this year!
And a new graphic novel coming next year, maybe...
For a picture book about opposites to grab my attention, it has to be clever or out of the ordinary, or both. For the same old opposites to be interesting, the illustrative examples have to be engaging or new opposites need to be employed. Two of my favorite books do both. Pomelo's Opposites and Hippopposites (scroll to the bottom for more about these books) are two of my favorites. Add to
There are never enough graphic novels for kids. This is a simple truth. When I look to our circulation at school, out of the top 50 circulating titles during the school year 44 were graphic novels. 88%! So I was pretty delighted when my colleague Karyn told me there was a graphic novel for kids I needed to check out. I finally got my hands on the arc and sat down to give it a go.
DJ is just an average kid in the middle of an above average family. The one thing he was really good at was being a good friend to Gina, but Gina moved away 3 years ago.
DJ is sitting on the roof of his club house when he sees something crash out of the sky. Imagine his surprise when a blond boy in silver undies climbs out of the newly formed crater in the earth. This kid has a lot of energy and even more questions since his "memory is a busted book" and he's not quite sure where he's from or what he's doing on earth. DJ takes Hilo in without much of a plan, and quickly finds himself with his hands full.
DJ is surprised when Gina ends up back in town, and notices that she's changed quite a bit in the 3 years she's been out of Berke County which makes DJ notice that he hasn't really changed. At all.
As Hilo's past is revealed to him in his dreams bit by bit, it soon becomes apparent that danger is on the way. And now maybe DJ will realize he's not so ordinary after all.
This outstanding graphic novel needs to be purchased in multiples. Winick has created lovable, funny and real characters that readers will laugh with and cheer for. The movement in the art is reminiscent of both Watterson and Gownley and I defy anyone to read Hilo without feeling moments of joy. While reviewers have pegged this as a 9-12 title, I'm saying all ages. I know we will have kids from 6 to 14 eager to check this one out.
We had an amazing time this past Saturday being ‘inventors!’ In this kids art class we learned about shape versus form while creating their own robot designs.
First the kids invented their robots, by creating 3 designs. I provided reference robo-parts for inspiration, and the kids came up with some very cool ideas!
“Girl Robot” by Maura
Dexter’s Robot in a Robot Arena
We chose our favorite design and then painted a flat gray value over the robot’s shape. Since this was a 1 day workshop and not an ongoing class, we were unable to store our wet art. Luckily Mrs. Scribble had her trusty hair dryer! I dried the paintings while the students created a second artwork: designing a futuristic world for their robots to live in. They LOVED this part.
Next we added white shine, or reflected light ‘stripes’ onto our robots. I showed them how to draw the stripes always on the same side of their robot, on every robot body part. Then we added black stripes for the shadow side of the robot, on every robot part. Finally we added an outer shadow around the robots.
Robo-Puppy Shadows and Highlights by Maura
Robo-Cat by Thatcher
Value is always a challenge for young children, and even more so using paint. Generally I prefer using pastels or oil pastels when teaching value, as it is slightly more forgiving than paint. If I do this lesson again, I’ll paint a demonstration robot along with them. I also let the kids go a little wild adding color to their robots at the end, but I encourage creativity. Process is what counts, as kids learn by doing and I never want to stifle that.
http://edition.cnn.com/2014/07/16/business/lake-jibo-robot/ And there is a story there. I’m certain! Here’s another link to “JIBO” if you’re interested in seeing more, or being creeped out of your own skin. Either way, here you go: http://www.myjibo.com/Filed under: writing for children Tagged: family robots, indiegogo, JIBO, MIT, robots
From mechanical turks to science fiction novels, our mobile phones to The Terminator, we’ve long been fascinated by machine intelligence and its potential — both good and bad. We spoke to philosopher Nick Bostrom, author of Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, about a number of pressing questions surrounding artificial intelligence and its potential impact on society.
Are we living with artificial intelligence today?
Mostly we have only specialized AIs – AIs that can play chess, or rank search engine results, or transcribe speech, or do logistics and inventory management, for example. Many of these systems achieve super-human performance on narrowly defined tasks, but they lack general intelligence.
There are also experimental systems that have fully general intelligence and learning ability, but they are so extremely slow and inefficient that they are useless for any practical purpose.
AI researchers sometimes complain that as soon as something actually works, it ceases to be called ‘AI’. Some of the techniques used in routine software and robotics applications were once exciting frontiers in artificial intelligence research.
What risk would the rise of a superintelligence pose?
It would pose existential risks – that is to say, it could threaten human extinction and the destruction of our long-term potential to realize a cosmically valuable future.
Would a superintelligent artificial intelligence be evil?
Hopefully it will not be! But it turns out that most final goals an artificial agent might have would result in the destruction of humanity and almost everything we value, if the agent were capable enough to fully achieve those goals. It’s not that most of these goals are evil in themselves, but that they would entail sub-goals that are incompatible with human survival.
For example, consider a superintelligent agent that wanted to maximize the number of paperclips in existence, and that was powerful enough to get its way. It might then want to eliminate humans to prevent us from switching if off (since that would reduce the number of paperclips that are built). It might also want to use the atoms in our bodies to build more paperclips.
Most possible final goals, it seems, would have similar implications to this example. So a big part of the challenge ahead is to identify a final goal that would truly be beneficial for humanity, and then to figure out a way to build the first superintelligence so that it has such an exceptional final goal. How to do this is not yet known (though we do now know that several superficially plausible approaches would not work, which is at least a little bit of progress).
How long have we got before a machine becomes superintelligent?
Nobody knows. In an opinion survey we did of AI experts, we found a median view that there was a 50% probability of human-level machine intelligence being developed by mid-century. But there is a great deal of uncertainty around that – it could happen much sooner, or much later. Instead of thinking in terms of some particular year, we need to be thinking in terms of probability distributed across a wide range of possible arrival dates.
So would this be like Terminator?
There is what I call a “good-story bias” that limits what kind of scenarios can be explored in novels and movies: only ones that are entertaining. This set may not overlap much with the group of scenarios that are probable.
For example, in a story, there usually have to be humanlike protagonists, a few of which play a pivotal role, facing a series of increasingly difficult challenges, and the whole thing has to take enough time to allow interesting plot complications to unfold. Maybe there is a small team of humans, each with different skills, which has to overcome some interpersonal difficulties in order to collaborate to defeat an apparently invincible machine which nevertheless turns out to have one fatal flaw (probably related to some sort of emotional hang-up).
One kind of scenario that one would not see on the big screen is one in which nothing unusual happens until all of a sudden we are all dead and then the Earth is turned into a big computer that performs some esoteric computation for the next billion years. But something like that is far more likely than a platoon of square-jawed men fighting off a robot army with machine guns.
If machines became more powerful than humans, couldn’t we just end it by pulling the plug? Removing the batteries?
It is worth noting that even systems that have no independent will and no ability to plan can be hard for us to switch off. Where is the off-switch to the entire Internet?
A free-roaming superintelligent agent would presumably be able to anticipate that humans might attempt to switch it off and, if it didn’t want that to happen, take precautions to guard against that eventuality. By contrast to the plans that are made by AIs in Hollywood movies – which plans are actually thought up by humans and designed to maximize plot satisfaction – the plans created by a real superintelligence would very likely work. If the other Great Apes start to feel that we are encroaching on their territory, couldn’t they just bash our skulls in? Would they stand a much better chance if every human had a little off-switch at the back of our necks?
So should we stop building robots?
The concern that I focus on in the book has nothing in particular to do with robotics. It is not in the body that the danger lies, but in the mind that a future machine intelligence may possess. Where there is a superintelligent will, there can most likely be found a way. For instance, a superintelligence that initially lacks means to directly affect the physical world may be able to manipulate humans to do its bidding or to give it access to the means to develop its own technological infrastructure.
One might then ask whether we should stop building AIs? That question seems to me somewhat idle, since there is no prospect of us actually doing so. There are strong incentives to make incremental advances along many different pathways that eventually may contribute to machine intelligence – software engineering, neuroscience, statistics, hardware design, machine learning, and robotics – and these fields involve large numbers of people from all over the world.
To what extent have we already yielded control over our fate to technology?
The human species has never been in control of its destiny. Different groups of humans have been going about their business, pursuing their various and sometimes conflicting goals. The resulting trajectory of global technological and economic development has come about without much global coordination and long-term planning, and almost entirely without any concern for the ultimate fate of humanity.
Picture a school bus accelerating down a mountain road, full of quibbling and carousing kids. That is humanity. But if we look towards the front, we see that the driver’s seat is empty.
Featured image credit: Humanrobo. Photo by The Global Panorama, CC BY 2.0 via Flickr
Imagine packing up your home, leaving Earth and setting out to travel across space to colonise a new planet.
The journey will take so long you’ll be put into a cryptobiotic state. But there is absolutely nothing to fear: You’re on sleek new spaceship, looked after by a team of well-programmed robots, and everything has been carefully thought through. When you finally arrive at Nova Mundi (it only takes 199 years to get there), you’ll be woken up to a delicious breakfast and the start of a whole new and wonderful life.
It sounds great, doesn’t it?
And so it is in Cakes in Space by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre. Astra and her family are on their way to their new home but – you’ve guessed it – something goes wrong. Astra wakes from her suspended sleep, and feeling peckish goes off in search of a chocolate biscuit.
The Nom-O-Tron (a highly developed version of Star Trek’s Replicator) satisfies Astra’s request, but when she’s tempted to ask for something a little more outlandish (how many times have you seen the word “Ultimate” used to describe a dish?) something goes awry. Soon Astra is hurtling through space surrounded by cakes which have learned to evolve. Cakes which are fed up of being eaten themselves. Cakes which have developed a killer instinct.
Will Astra be able to save her family from the Ravenous Crispy Slices and Ferocious Fruit Cakes stalking the spaceship’s corridors? How much more complicated will things get when a second front opens up and her spaceship is raided by alien life forms known as Poglites, desperately searching for their holy grail, that technology which they haven’t been able to master: SPOONS.
Yes, this is a totally surreal and deliciously outrageous story of friendship, ingenuity and hundreds and thousands.
It’s fast-moving, exciting, just ever so slightly scary in that enjoyably adrenalin pumping way and above all it’s FUNNY! Add into the mix some genuinely beautiful writing (sometimes young fiction is all about the plot and the language – especially for an adult reading it aloud – can be somewhat unremarkable, but Reeve at times writes sentences which I found myself wanting to copy out), a plot which will enthral both boys and girls of a wide age range, and the subtle inclusion of some philosophically meatier issues (the consequences of greedy desire, the demonisation of that which we don’t know and can’t name) and you’ve got yourself a remarkable book.
Image: Sarah McIntyre. Please click on the image to be taken to the original blog post – well worth reading!
McIntyre’s illustrations are a crazy but perfect mix of 1950s brave new world sleekness and outrageous sponge-and-icing based fantasy. I’m delighted that Astra’s family are mixed race (this isn’t mentioned in the text at all, but how great to see some diversity just as-is, without it being an issue in the book).
The top-notch content of Cakes in Space is matched by a stunningly produced physical book. Like last year’s Reeve and McIntyre production, Oliver and the Seawigs, this is first being published as a small hardback in pleasingly chunky, strokingly hand-holdable format. Everything about the book is appealing.
After indulging in a solo read, I read this book aloud to both girls over a couple of days last week. Before we’d even finished the books my girls were off to raid the cutlery draw in the kitchen for highly prized spoons to create a collection of which any Poglite would be proud.
Carefully curated, they labelled every spoon with where it had been found in the galaxy, its rarity and its monetary value (I can see how this could develop into a Top Trumps game…)
Spoons are one thing, but cake is another, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to host our own mini Cakes in Space party. We baked a host of fairy cakes and then turned them into KILLER CAKES…
Lollies made great eyes on stalks…
… as did Maltesers and Aero balls.
We had fun making teeth out of snapped white chocolate buttons, tictacs and rice paper snipped to look like rows of sharp teeth.
We also had some Ferocious Florentines and Sinister Swiss Rolls (helped along with edible eyes).
Other characters from the book were also present: The Nameless Horror was a big bowl of wobbly jelly dyed black with food colouring and with licorice shoelaces reaching out across the table, and jars of purple gloop (thinned down Angel Delight, again dyed to give a good purple colour) with gummy snakes in them made perfect Poglite snacks. Alas these were guzzled before I got to take a photo!
Preparing for the party was at least as much fun as the party itself…
SLEEPING PODS! For the grown ups at the party if no-one else… You could use large cardboard boxes painted silver lined with duvets, and with the lids cut out and replaced with something see-through, with bottle tops/lids stuck on for the various buttons… you get the idea!
We’ve all heard of Death by Chocolate, but what’s the nearest you’ve come to being killed by a cake?
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of Cakes in Space from the publishers.
The Winter of the Robots by Kurtis Scaletta is a fun, science-themed mystery, perfect for middle schoolers. First-person narrator Jim lives in a slightly run-down neighborhood in North Minneapolis. He and his best friend Oliver are science geeks. But when Jim chooses a girl named Rocky as his partner for a science project, instead of working with Oliver, he sets a series of unexpected events in motion. Joined by Oliver's replacement partner Dmitri, the four young teens discover a mysterious junkyard, and the suggestion of robots living in the wild.
There's a lot to like about The Winter of the Robots. The chilly Minneapolis winter setting feels authentic, as do the friend and sibling relationships. Jim's little sister, Penny, is a strong character, as is Rocky, a girl who wants to get her hands dirty. Penny is a bit of a pest, but smart, too. Jim's dad is realistically flawed, with a barely controlled temper. There's a nice scene in which Jim starts to see his dad clearly, something that is certainly part of growing up. All in all, I thought Scaletta did a nice job of allowing freedom for Jim and his friends to accomplish something meaningful, while still having concerned parents.
Here's Rocky to Jim, after he sees her work a snowblower:
"My dad has taught me how to do everything. He says women get cheated out of learning stuff. I've changed the oil on a car. I've run an electric drill and a power saw. I even welded once." (Page 32)
And here's Oliver.
"That's what scientists do. They revise an idea, evolve it, and make it better." Both of Oliver's parents were scientists, so he would know. He was a mad scientist in training. He already had the brilliant mind, the wild hair, and the thick glasses. All he needed was a hunchbacked assistant." (Page 4)
Scaletta also manages to include some diversity among the characters. Dmitri has a minor disability, and spends time helping his autistic younger brother. Several adults from the neighborhood play a role in the kids' adventures, and not all of them are upstanding citizens.
As you would expect from a book called The Winter of the Robots, there is a ton of information here about how to build robots. The technical parts are well-integrated into the text, such that the book doesn't feel informational (Jim is learning as he builds things). It may even inspire young readers to become involved in building robots themselves. Some of the technical details dragged a little bit for me as an adult reader (who isn't particularly interested in building robots), but I liked the positive portrayal of kids who are smart and passionate about science.
Apart from that, I though that the plot has a nice pace, and a good use of red herrings and innuendo. There are a fair number of characters to keep track of, and one of them does come to a bad end (offstage). While perhaps a bit difficult for 8 or 9 year olds, I think The Winter of the Robots will be a nice addition to the reading options for mystery- and/or tech-loving middle schoolers. While clearly aimed at boys, the presence of two strong female characters (Rocky and Penny) keeps it girl-friendly, too. There's a smidgen of boy-girl relationship dynamics, but nothing for anyone to worry about. Recommended for readers age 10 and up.
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: October 8, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
FTC Required Disclosure:
This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).
Pilkey, Dav. 2014. Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot. New York: Scholastic. Illustrations by Dan Santat.
While at ALA Midwinter, I picked up an Advance Reader Copy of Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot. I know what you're thinking - that's not a new book, that was published ages ago! Yes, but it's back again, and this time in full color, with glossy pages and new "mini-comics" inside.
All of the Ricky Ricotta books will be reissued with new illustrations, and two brand new books are planned for January and March of 2015. A big campaign is in the works ... stay tuned.
BTW, my Advance Reader Copy went home with a very happy young boy, one of my best readers. He was looking for my library's "checked-out" copy of the original Ricky Ricotta's Giant Robot. Imagine the smile on his face when I gave him a new, as yet unpublished, full-color copy! (Luckily, I had read it at lunchtime.)
The original Ricky Ricotta artist, Martin Ontiveros deserves credit for helping to create a series that captured the imagination of a nearly a generation of children. Dan Santat will refresh the series for the next generation. Long live Dav Pilkey!
All the excitement surrounding The LEGO Movie sparked a renewed interest in the venerable building toys at my house. The following books that include all kinds of tips, ideas and techniques to re-purpose existing LEGO pieces for all sorts of fantastic creations.
Book: Expiration Day Author: William Campbell Powell
Age Range: 12 and up
Expiration Day is set in a dystopian near-future England a generation after fertility levels have dropped precipitously world-wide. Hardly any babies are born anymore, though most people don't realize how bad the situation is, because they parents are able to purchase uncannily lifelike robotic children. These children don't even know (unless some incident occurs) whether they are human or not.
Expiration Day is related primarily as the diary of a girl named Tania, who lives with her parents just outside of London. Tania's diary has somehow been discovered, "encrypted and forgotten, but surviving through uncounted millennia" by someone from a future alien race. His comments and responses to Tania's story are included as brief "intervals" throughout the story. The title refers to the fact that the robot children must be returned to their manufacturer on their 18th birthday - the parents have them only lease.
The world in Expiration Day is reminiscent in tone to that of P.D. James' Children of Men. In Willam Campbell Powell's world, however, the artificial children serve to keep society under control, filling an innate need that people have to form families and pass things along to a future generation (even if that generation expires at age 18).
I found the philosophical underpinnings of Expiration Day thought-provoking. And I quite liked Tania as a character. Parts of the book, which begins when Tania is only 11, drag a little bit, plot-wise. But my concern for Tania's fate kept me reading. The end includes a couple of twists (one of which I'm still trying to wrap my head around), which will keep readers guessing.
One thing that I really liked about Expiration Day was the importance of Tania's father as a character. Not a placeholder, or someone to be rescued, as is a common convention in books, but an intelligent, caring man who puts everything on the line in support of his daughter.
Here are a couple of snippets, to give you a feel for Tania's voice:
"There's a word for legs like mine. Gangly. I count my knees, sometimes, and I know I have just two, one on each leg. But dressed like that, I felt like it was more--a lot more, with different numbers on each leg." (Page 18)
"I love words, though, and I wish I could control them better. Like Humpty Dumpty, to have them line up and do my bidding. So I read, as I said, from Chaucer and Shakespeare, via Dylan Thomas and Rupert Brooke, to Ray Bradbury and Roger Zelazny, and try to see how they get their words to behave." (Page 182)
"Nobody truly dies who shapes another person. Does that make sense, Mister Zog?" (page 227)
Fans of speculative and dystopian fiction, particularly that which questions what makes someone human in the presence of advanced technology (like The Adoration of Jenna Fox), won't want to miss Expiration Day. Tania's participation in a band, and her issues with dating and growing up, are also addressed, and make the book accessible to those who prefer more realistic coming-of-age fiction. For those who need to know, there are discussions about having sex (including a boy who wants to), but no real action to speak of in Expiration Day. This is a book that will stay with me, and made me think. I learned about it from this review at Ms. Yingling Reads.
Publisher: Tor Teen (@TorTeen)
Publication Date: April 22, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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As a teenager, I often receive the label of unable: unable to make a difference; unable to make an impact; unable to make important decisions. Yet when I see two teenage girls start a non-profit organization dedicated to developing robotics programs in their community and beyond, I know the unable labels are wrong.
Stumbling across Robot Springboard was somewhat of an accident: I was actually looking into starting a non-profit organization of my own geared towards robotics community service. When I found their startlingly professional and passionate website, I knew my plans were about to change. Rather than founding a similar foundation of my own, I decided to reach out to junior fraternal twins Hannah and Rachael Tipperman and join forces with them.
Yet the Tipperman twins haven’t needed much help so far. Robot Springboard has been underway for over three years now, starting off in the summer between their ninth and tenth grade year. Most young people at this age are spending summer days lazing about in the sun by a pool but not Hannah and Rachael. In just thirty-six short months, these two ladies have managed to transform a simple idea into a fully functional non-profit organization. In 2013, the Tippermans launched a week-long robotics workshop for middle-school girls at Drexel University. After receiving an AspireIT grant from The National Center for Women and Information Technology, Hannah and Rachael contacted the computer science head at Drexel University. To their delight, the entire engineering department at Drexel was ecstatic at the idea. Within a few weeks, the camp was successfully launched.
Beyond single workshops, they have also managed to supply year-long programs. BrightStart robotics, an expansion of Robot Springboard, is geared towards younger children and their parents. Right now, they are hosting hour-and-a-half long seminars at their local library that include NXT robot kits. The kids design complete robots out of lego pieces before programming them to run through mazes using laptop computers. It is amazing what these young minds are learning and doing through this organization!
Success did not come right away for the Tipperman sisters, however. At first, they were turned down by their local library to even host a lobby display about simple robotics programs for kids. But the twins refused to be derailed. Through much sweat and toil, they are now performing monthly BrightStart robotics demonstrations at their library. Even more, the Tipperman sisters are going global this summer. After doing some research, the girls realized that Costa Rica is not involved in the FIRST Lego League—a middle-school organization geared towards having kids design Lego robots to compete in competitive games. Upon learning this, Hannah and Rachael knew they had to open a camp in Costa Rica to try and bring robotics and technology into young Costa Rican lives. They will be running not one but two camps in Costa Rica this summer.
When they’re not flying down to Costa Rica, Hannah and Rachael are reaching out nationally through their “Robotics in a Box” program. Interested customers can request a box, which includes two NXT Mindstorm robot kits, two HP laptops with included NXT software, and educational books from their NXT robot kit library.
After seeing their intentions to go national, I realized I could help Hannah and Rachael with their incredible mission. Currently, I am trying to bring Robot Springboard and BrightStart Robotics into the Colorado area. As a newcomer, I am facing the struggles that the Tipperman sisters first confronted. The NXT robot kits cost nearly three-hundred dollars apiece, not to mention the cost of laptops. But the thought of inspiring the youth through robotics programs and STEM programs keeps me going.
If you have any old laptops that have been outdated (maybe ones with a Windows XP operating system) or are of no longer of use to you, feel free to contact me at Kalin.Natalie@hotmail.com.
Also, check out the Tipperman’s inspiring website at http://www.robotspringboard.org/about-us-2/about-us.html
With these two girls, the unable label will surely disappear soon.
Over the last month, I’ve been working with Greg Wright on a new comic book project called “Monstrous”.
It’s got steam powered robots & monsters that span the imagination. In this pilot, we meet a little girl who has to team up with a monster for hire to avenge her father’s death. What I love about MONSTROUS, is that it has the “IT” factor that I believe will be enjoyed by young and old. It has fun moments, scary moments and head turning moments.
Sometimes I wish could just read the entire series already instead of having to create it. It’s not that I don’t enjoy working on it (trust me – it’s a blast)… it’s the fact that I have to wait on my slow butt to finish it. Ha!
Robots were everywhere in the Children's Room this summer. Our robot photo-spot offered our patrons a chance to be a "robot". The fun was not limited to our patrons, however. Your library staff also got in on the fun.