Cindy: One of the most popular titles in recent years with my incoming 6th graders is Katherine Applegate’s Newbery winner The One and Only Ivan. I’ve found a good read- alike for his fans: Just as Ivan showed us something about what it means to be human, Roz, the robot in Peter Brown’s The Wild Robot (2016), shows us something about what it means to be alive.
When, during a hurricane, some container ship crates wash ashore on an island inhabited only by animals, ROZZUM unit 7134 emerges as the only robot to survive unharmed. Some curious otters bring her to life with an errant push of a button. The island’s wildlife are initially afraid of this new and strange creature.
Roz has much to learn in order to survive in the wild. Once the animals realize that she can be trusted, they are eager to teach her. Some of the lessons are quite serious, while others have flashes of brilliant humor. When Roz meets an opossum, she accesses her databank and spits out the facts:
“You are a marsupial, and are nocturnal, and are known for mimicking the appearance and smell of dead animals when threatened.”
“It’s true, death scenes are my specialty,” said the opossum. “But I have a wide dramatic range, believe me.”
When Roz further questions the opossum about why it pretends to be something it is not, the opossum replies:
“Because it’s fun!…and because it helps me survive as you just saw. You never know, it might help you survive too.”
The lessons that Roz picks up do help her survive on the island, but her knowledge and her mistakes help the animals as well. When Roz decides to adopt a young orphaned gosling, she gets much advice from the animals, including this bit of wisdom:
“You’ll never be the perfect mother, so just do the best you can. All Brightbill really needs is to know you’re doing your best.”
Keep the tissues handy if you are reading this aloud to a child at bedtime. Young goslings grow up and need to leave the nest and take flight.
Like The One and Only Ivan, this novel will make a great middle-grade read-aloud, and will inspire interesting discussion about nature and technology, friendship, and survival. Reluctant readers will be pulled in by Brown’s art. All readers will be pleased that the ending leaves opportunity for a sequel.