As a children’s librarian, I read lots of books from early readers through the Young Adult genres. On rare occasions, I come across a book I believe is marked for greatness. The Wild Robot is one such book. Juxtaposing science fiction with a nature adventure story, Peter Brown creates a character that exudes more humanity than the most popular characters in modern kid lit. With complex themes and an engage story, the Wild Robot will take you on an emotional roller coaster that ultimately begs the question: What does it mean to be human?
The story opens with a violent storm, a hurricane sinking a cargo ship to the bottom of the ocean. Five crates stay afloat only to crash onto the shores of an island with no human presence. Of the five crates, only one remains intact. Inside the crate is a robot, ROZZUM unit 7134, to be precise. Roz, as the robot comes to be known, is clearly a form of artificial intelligence. She (the author discusses at the end the use of the female pronoun) has been programmed to learn from her experiences and she has an innate drive to survive. As Roz encounters the animal life on the island, she at first is viewed as a monster until the animals come to see her as a part of the natural order of the island. Roz adapts to her life on the island and experiences biological phenomena normally reserved for living creatures: birth, death, parenthood, seasonal changes in behavior, emotional attachment, food chains, and others. A major component of Roz’s identity is that she is in action, thought, and deed a human character. Her humanity is present quite early in the text and continues to develop as her interactions with the island’s natural inhabitants increase and become more complex. Roz’s artificial intelligence has lead to unintended consequences. She registers and emotes feelings just as humans do. How this is accomplished is not explained by the author, although it is possible that sentience was never considered a part of her original programming. The story concludes with a fast paced and violent encounter with other robot units who have come to locate the missing robots from the shipwreck. The end of the story leaves the reader begging for more. Peter Brown left himself an opening for a sequel, but he may consider it more appropriate for readers to theorize Roz’s possible fate.
While certainly not a graphic novel, the book is filled with Brown’s drawings of Roz, the animals who inhabit the island, and various scenic locations important to the plot.
The gray scale drawings seem so simple, yet the expression and emotion in them force the reader to connect with the characters beyond the text. For me, the pictures brought life to the characters, breathing sight and smell into Brown’s vivid descriptions.
No children’s literature title in recent memory has affected me as much as this book. I cheered for Roz at teach step of her journey. Young readers will latch on to her as she searches for her past and her purpose. Teachers will find the book an excellent read aloud or reading circle selection. Highest recommendation!
AR RL- 5.1, 10 points
Reading Counts RL- 4.9, 9 points
Word Count- 35019
As I read this book, it was hard to take my teacher hat off. The various themes rolled in my brain as I considered how I would share this book with my kids. Here is a list of themes to consider if you choose to use this text:
- Life cycles
- Personal transformation in becoming a parent
- Search for identity
- Longing to understand the past
- Nature vs. nurture
- The role of technology in everyday life
- Ethics of artificial intelligence
- Destructive forces of nature
- Generative forces of nature
- Civil disobedience
- The human will to survive (or in this case, inhuman!)
The following resources may work well in teaching this book:
Read Write Think has an excellent unit on comparing the technology presented in a science fiction text with technology in the real world.
The FirstGradeCritterCafe blog has a neat graphic organizer that would work well as a pre-reading activity to engage students’ prior knowledge about robots.
LiteracyLeader has a complete set of character graphic organizers to choose from. Because the primary plot point involves Roz’s adaptation over time, students should be able to show her development at each stage of the story.
A great culminating activity would be to have student groups generate ideas as to Roz’s fate. Students can decide whether Roz ever returns to the island or if she faces some type of consequence for her refusal to return to her owners. Have students write a continuation to the story collaboratively and then create the story using a presentation app such as Sock Puppets, Puppet Edu, or Tellagami.
Any other ideas? Share them in the comments!