It’s easy to find children’s books that are didactic; plenty of authors want to instruct about the alphabet, teach how to count, or tell little ones that bedtime is a Very Good Thing (especially for frazzled parents). It’s also not hard to find children’s books that are dynamic; writers love to offer stories arranged in unorthodox ways and illustrators adore painting striking pictures. The trick, though, lies in finding titles for little ones that provide both instruction and artistic excellence. Bob Staake’s picture book Hello, Robots is just such a one.
Once upon a time, four robots lived in a tidy little house in a tidy little neighborhood. Each had its own job. Rotund, red BLINK managed the cooking. Squat, purple ZINC fixed any and every machine in need of repair. BLIP was as green as the plants he cared for. And sunshine-yellow ZIP loved nothing more than cleaning up a mess. The quartet of automatons kept everything spic and span, piping hot and in working order, going about their labors with broad smiles on their metal faces. But when they got caught in a rainstorm during a spur-of-the-moment picnic, frowns replaced those grins and malfunctions disrupted their carefully ordered chores.
You know the old cliché about something being “deceptively simple,” right? Well, if it was in the dictionary, Hello, Robots would be featured in the picture beside it. I must’ve already spilled at least as much ink on this article as it does on its pages. The whole thing is composed of four-line rhyming stanzas punctuated by the simple refrain, “Hello, robots! Metal robots! / Smiling bolt to bolt.” The illustrations also appear rather basic, being made mostly of brightly colored geometrical shapes. But you know what they say about appearances: Peer closely at the page, and you’ll see that the circles, squares, and triangles composing the robots are actually studded with rivets and screws, diagnostic dials and timekeeping devices. Imaginative complexity hides in plain sight. You could say the same for the story. Once the robots get their unexpected shower bath, all the rules go out the proverbial window and they mix up their jobs with hilarious results:
BLINK, he BAKES a birdhouse high.
ZINC REPAIRS the apple pie.
BLIP, he RAKES the window glass.
ZIP SHINES up a mound of grass.
Not so happy robots anymore! Kids three to six will laugh at their antics, but they’ll learn about transitive verbs and direct objects in the process — and what happens when you get them confused. I won’t spoil the ending, but suffice it to say that the robots resolve their dilemma by using both concrete and abstract thinking. An imaginative, instructive book.
(Picture: Copyright 2004 by Bob Staake; used under Fair Use)