Our search for the next school wide read continues without success. There have been books some teachers on the “committee” loved, some that were good for grades 6 and 7 but not 8, some good for 8 and seven but not for six. And the science and math department, along with the forces at large, are still pushing for a non-fiction title, which only makes the search harder.
So we’re still looking.
Meanwhile, the search led me to Peter Brown’s wonderful novel for younger readers The Wild Robot which is perfect for grades four through six, but really too young for grades seven and eight.
The story opens, like so many good stories do, with a storm. A ship is lost at sea, its crew lost, its cargo swept overboard. The cargo–robots.
Only one robot survives the wreck to end up on dry land, an island, inhabited only by the animals one finds in the Pacific Northwest. When a group of curious sea otters accidentally turns the robot on, the machine finds itself alone among creatures who view it as a monster.
Roz, the robot, soon discovers that her programming which was designed to serve humans, must be modified if she is to survive and to serve the animals of the island.
There are all kinds of themes at play here that would make this a terrific school wide read. The clash between machine and nature, the way the robot studies the eco-system in order to adapt to it, the presentation of the interdependence among the animals on the island, how Roz takes on an orphaned gosling and raises it to adulthood, overcoming fear and prejudice, the extremes a parent will go to to protect a child, what it’s like to raise a child very different from yourself. Writing this I see how well this book would pair with Shakespeare’s Tempest though Roz is both Prospero and Caliban.
But the readership for The Wild Robot is really a younger audience, upper elementary. The eighth graders, and many of the seventh graders, would probably not go along with the talking animals or the very child like artwork throughout the book. They are both too old and too young for that sort of thing.
I loved it. The opening sections of the book featuring the robot Roz adapting to the wild animals she encounters were cleverly written and thought provoking in the way a good fable is thought provoking. While the animals interact with Roz they remain animals–predators are predators and prey is prey. Towards the end things get a little Disneyesque as the animals of the island join forces to protect Roz from the robot rescue team that has arrive and there is a default chase/battle scene in the end, but I was okay with that.
The Wild Robot reminded me of a favorite movie from years ago, The Brave Little Toaster maybe you saw it. It’s a wonderful movie. Perfect for children 13 and under and young adults past their late teens. It was very popular with the college age crowd in San Francisco at the time. It’s also the unacknowledged basis for Toy Story but you didn’t hear that from me.
If you’re young enough, or old enough, to enjoy The Brave Little Toaster, you might enjoy The Wild Robot.
Here’s The Brave Little Toaster. You can see the entire movie on YouTube for free.