Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Stacking 'Em Up, Letter By Letter

Our house was a house of making things.  If something needed fixing Dad would devise the perfect albeit unique solution.  No holiday or vacation was complete without lots of arts and crafts; Mom was never at a loss for ideas.

When combining Dad's inventiveness with Mom's creativity, our Halloween costumes were a sight to behold. One particular October I was the neighborhood robot; donning painted boxes decorated with knobs and gizmos galore.  For that reason, the fact children adore anything about robots and my growing collection of alphabet books, I couldn't have been happier when I was handed R Is For Robot: A Noisy Alphabet (Price Stern Sloan, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) LLC) written and illustrated by Adam F. Watkins the last time I visited my favorite independent bookstore.

As you look at the dust jacket, book case, endpapers, title page and verso it's clear this crew of robots is gearing up for a construction project of huge proportions.  Tools are being gathered.  Blueprints are being studied.  With a page turn it sounds like they've already started.

Beep Boop

This can't be good; the guys moving letter A and letter B have run into one another.  A chorus of noise is heard from a cascade of letter Cs.  The robots for letters D, E and F are leaking, shrieking and leaping.  A dog, water, a spilled dessert and an emergency device definitely figure in the placement of letters G, H, I and J.  I may have just seen a ninja and a singing giant.

Wait a minute!  Did that robot just do what I think he did?  Horsepower, tractor power and a bit more oil than necessary place three more pieces, letters N, O and P, in the structure. There goes that duck again and now one of the workers wants to make music.  Time's a wasting and some parts hardly seem to be moving.

Wait!  Here we go.  Carrying, speeding, flying, rigging, pulling and pulling some more contribute to the final artful arrangement.  It's a rainbow array of letters from A to Z, a monument to words and language.  The assembled automated artisans couldn't be more pleased.

I have yet to walk by a building site without hearing the rise and fall of a mechanical melody.  With this in mind Adam F. Watkins selects twenty-six words, each beginning with a different letter of the alphabet describing or imitating a sound.  These words are selected with the process of creating in mind as the robots go about their work.  Interest is heightened as other robots and robotic creatures interact with the business at hand.  An example of this is for the letter G; the word


describes the robot dog, tied to a nearby hydrant, growling at the robot carrying the letter.

Rendered in pen and ink and oil paint on board these colorful, creative illustrations grab your attention as soon as you open up the dust jacket and book case.  These marvelous machines, bits and pieces of moving metal, are distinctive in physical characteristics and expression.  The opening and closing endpapers zoom in on the blueprints first for letters A and B and then for Y and Z.  You have to wonder, looking a the verso page, if the project will proceed according to the plans when a solitary robot is scratching his head as he looks at the entire set.

All the pictures extend from edge to edge with a white background meeting the grassy meadow on which the finished framework will stand but a single letter is on the left and right side.  The robotic activities are tied together always by color but sometimes with one robot interacting with another.  Watkins has included additional elements which begin with each letter; some obvious, others needing a careful eye to locate.

One of my favorite illustrations, already mentioned above, is that for the letters G and H.  On the opposite side of the hydrant is a hose connected to a robot made of a clear watering canister.  With his one arm he is holding a hose hissing steam at the letter H.  A tiny heart is on his body.  The robot trying to avoid the grumpy dog is wearing glasses.  Watkins adds the tiniest details like the water dripping from the attachment of the hose to the hydrant.

If you are looking for quiet book R Is For Robot: A Noisy Alphabet written and illustrated by Adam F. Watkins is not for you.  It's a fun-filled title loaded with action and humor. One read aloud will not suffice.  Expect requests to read this again and again.  I think it would be a great idea to assign a sound to each student in the classroom having them repeat it after it's read adding to the sounds until the end when it will be a symphony.

I have embedded a link to Adam F. Watkins website in his name.  Enjoy the book trailer.


I obtained my copy of this book from my favorite indie book store, McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Michigan.  Please make a purchase with your favorite independent bookstore or visit your local public library.

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