It hangs on the wall above my work space. It holds a hammer he made. All the tools are engraved with his initials, CSM. It's not just a toolbelt holding those few implements of his I still have, it's a cache for memories. It holds his voice telling me how to hold a nail and swing that hammer. It reminds me how to use the proper motion when using a saw. It asks me to look at a problem, figuring out the best way to make something, anything, work.
Yesterday as I was busy decorating my home with strings of orange lights for Halloween, I paused to put my pumpkin stakes along the walkway. The previous owners used river rock extensively in the landscaping. Using a hole punch Dad gave me, I was able to pierce through the stone and webbing to make a spot for those stakes. As I finished, holding the punch, I knew Dad was there next to me and grinning.
In his dedication for his newest title, Little Robot (First Second, September 1, 2015), Ben Hatke writes
For my DAD,
who showed me
how COOL it is to
Being able to envision an end product or goal, to figure out a way to make it work with the materials at hand and feel satisfaction and success is a gift. It's rarely easy but as Ben's new protagonist shows us, the rewards are invaluable.
A crescent moon hangs in the sky above a highway bridge as vehicles cross. One, a truck, hits some rocks on the road dislodging a box from the back. It plunges into the river, drifting into the countryside.
In the morning a young girl sneaks out the window of her trailer home scampering away as others ride the bus to school. She wanders and explores in a neighbor's yard and near a junkyard by the water. The floating box grabs her attention. She gets it on the sand, opens the box and surprises herself with the contents.
With some shimmying and shaking a little robot forms. It's wobbly just like a newborn child. With a bit of help from the human, it quickly learns to walk without falling. Meanwhile...
At the robot factory, the missing box is duly noted. An eight-legged, one-eyed, menacing spider- type machine is sent out to locate the absent robot. As it searches, Little Robot with the guidance of his new friend discovers the finer points of cats, flowers, pond life and the fine art of skipping stones. With the setting of the sun on the second day of their new companionship, it's easy to see these two are inseparable.
With all new relationships there are challenges. These two must spend their nights without each other. Sometimes best efforts fall short. Sometimes best efforts succeed grandly. One is human, the other is a robot. Something evil wants one of them. Ingenuity, determination, and a need to find puffballs are qualities in a friend I would enjoy for life.
Robot-speak and short conversational sentences, more like thinking aloud, are the sole narration. Ben Hatke's images, based on each reader's perceptions and past experiences, convey volumes. It's as if he is telling us a story filled with text, once upon a time and the end.
On the matching dust jacket and book case Ben Hatke introduces us to the human child, Little Robot, a junkyard cat and the nefarious machine. The girl wears her white nightshirt and carries her toolbelt like the hero she is. Little Robot brings out the best in her. We can readily see the color palette, the fine line work, and shading used throughout the book. To the left, on the back, on the extended hillside stand four other little robots ready for action. The gear pattern in the title text is used on the spine also.
On the opening and closing endpapers two-tone light blue gears provide a background for a pale yellow dancing Little Robot and his human girl child. On the formal title page a darker shade of the same blue showcases Little Robot and the girl kneeling and looking at a flower with the text in yellow. This leads beautifully into the first two-page image.
Hatke takes us from illustration to illustration flawlessly. He might put a smaller picture within a larger one. Panels may be grouped in four with a larger one underneath horizontally or two might be side by side vertically. Most of the panels are framed in a loose white border. Gorgeous visuals close out each chapter.
Changing perspective, bringing us close to the characters' faces, involves us intimately in the emotional moments of the story. Hatke may use a series of panels grouped by six to depict a few seconds in time. He desires us to be with the characters. And we are.
I have many favorite illustrations but the two pages where the girl is showing Little Robot how to skip stones on the river is delightful. She eagerly demonstrates with one skip and a plunk. With a couple of clicks and a blip Little Robot performs like an Olympic champion. The look on the girl's face as she watches and then glances at Little Robot is sure to bring on a smile. Then in a heartbeat she's ready to play a new game.
Little Robot conceived, written and illustrated by Ben Hatke is a tribute to the strength of true friendship. He salutes creativity. He salutes girl power. These are the kind of characters for whom you want to cheer. I highly recommend this book for your personal and classroom shelves. Thank you Ben for this book.
To learn more about Ben Hatke and his other work please follow the links attached to his names to access his website and Tumblr. You can view eight interior images at the publisher's website. Ben was interviewed about this title (plus there are more illustrations) at Entertainment Weekly, Tor.com, Comic Book Resources, The Beat Comics Culture and BookPage.
On October 29, 2015 Little Robot is one of the titles selected by John Schumacher, Scholastic Ambassador for School Libraries and Colby Sharp, 3rd grade teacher and co-founder of Nerdy Book Club for the #SharpSchu Book Club on Twitter.