Readaloud of the Week: The Wild Robot
THE WILD ROBOT by Peter Brown
One day, a robot washes up on the shore of a lonely island.
Roz is an ordinary robot, but she’s definitely not in ordinary robot circumstances. Once she’s extricated herself from her packing crate, she explores the island, which is a wilderness untouched by civilization — unless you count the wrecked bodies of other robots on the shore. Though Roz has the processing capacity to learn the languages of the wild animals living on the island, they want nothing to do with the weird metal creature who has intruded on their space. As time passes, though, Roz figures out not just how to survive on the island herself but also how to help the rest of the island’s inhabitants survive bigger dangers than they’ve faced before. Of course, the mystery of how she ended up on the island is bound to catch up with her eventually — and that may bring the biggest dangers of all.
Even though the main character is a robot, this book is firmly in the classical survival-in-the-wild genre that also includes classics like My Side of the Mountain and Hatchet. In the same spirit, there’s the idea running through the story that the challenges we face in the wild may be harder than life in the civilized city, but there is a value in overcoming them that our more urban lives can’t match. It’s also an interesting middle grades entry into the “what does it mean to be human?” genre, of which Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and I, Robot are excellent examples. Roz is a robot, so she doesn’t feel things the way a living creature would, the book reminds us again and again — as it shows us example after example of Roz caring for other living things. These two stories seems like an unlikely mash-up, but in The Wild Robot, they fit together perfectly.
I particularly like the arbitrary “she” pronoun instead of “it” or “he.” Roz is a robot. Even in the one scene where she’s covered in flowers, she looks like a robot. There’s no reason to refer to her as male or female. But those are the times when I especially love for someone to default to the female pronoun. (This may just be a me-thing.)
Quibbles you might run into: This is a simple story told in simple words, but some of the ideas are quite complex — and there are some dark and sad moments that might be too much for the youngest readers. It may feel like an “easy” middle grades read, but I really think that’s the right audience. The ending is similarly complex — don’t expect a simple “and they all lived happily ever” at the end.
For me, it sits firmly in the “delightful” category. It’s a lovely story all on its own, but it’s also got beautifully rewarding layers for deeper reading and conversation. Plus, the illustrations are great!