In Growing Up With …, Jenn features picture books, middle reader, and teen books linked together by concept or theme.
It wasn’t until I saw the The Iron Giant at the not-so-tender age of 20 that I realized robots could be cuddly, as well as terrifying. (I blame all those early-‘90s weekend reruns of The Terminator movies for my previously fear-driven obsession.) Years of bookselling have taught me the same lesson: that stories purportedly for children can be just as entertaining, thought-provoking, and generally gush-worthy for adults as they are for their target audience. Let she who has never dreamed of flying with Falcor and he who has not reread Where the Wild Things Are depart in haste! In this series, I hope to introduce you to books that, whatever your age, will earn a place on your favorites shelf.
The inaugural post, accordingly, is in honor of that first noble mechanical reminder that choice triumphs over programming. Lord knows there are dangerous machines aplenty (see also: Robopocalypse; I, Robot; Blade Runner; I could go on and on), and I do love a good scare, but my gift to you today, dear reader, is an introduction to robots that you can befriend without reservation.
Boy + Bot, Ame Dyckman and Dan Yaccarino
Ostensible Age Range: 1 – 4
Meet Bot. He’s not only an excellent playmate for Boy, but solicitous to boot. When Boy falls asleep after a long day of fun, Bot is convinced that he needs fixing. He tries his best, but oiling, an instruction manual, and even a spare battery don’t seem to work. Not one to give up, he turns to the Inventor for help. Who knew that humans don’t have an on-off switch? A stalwart friend indeed!
Zita the Spacegirl, Ben Hatke
Ostensible Age Range: 8 – 12
Next up are One, a Heavily Armored Mobile Battle Orb, and Randy, a scaredybot with a secret, befriended by the titular Zita on her mission to rescue her friend Joseph. Fired for his “failure to work well with others,” One is ever-ready for battle and and full of helpful suggestions (my personal favorite: “Perhaps you should install hover units on your rodent.”). Randy, while equipped with neither bombast nor weapons, is nonetheless possessed of his own reserves of courage, and both will be needed to save the day. Bonus: Hatke is doing a series of robot comics on his blog!
Cinder, Marissa Meyer
Ostensible Age Range: 13 – 18
Cinder, the first heroine of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series and a reboot (harr harr) of the fairytale Cinderella, is technically a cyborg. How much of her is human and how much mechanical (not to mention the reasons why) are questions that causes her no end of trouble, especially in the society of New Beijing where cyborgs are second-class citizens. Her handyman skills are her saving grace, winning her a reputation as a mechanic that has kept her safe enough — until a virulent plague strikes within her own family. Cinder is recruited as a test subject, and begins to find answers to the mysteries of her past. Full of moxie, practical and stubborn, Cinder is a ‘borg you can count on to guard your back — and then fix your computer.