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Books of the Week: “The Wild Robot” and “Lucy’s Lab: Nuts About Science”

Jan 8, 2018 | By: Isabel Huff

Books of the Week: “The Wild Robot” and “Lucy’s Lab: Nuts About Science” thumbnail

The Wild Robot

by Peter Brown

A phenomenally fun, whimsical, heartwarming story about a robot who ends up on an island in the middle of the ocean and learns to live there.  Roz the robot observes animals to learn their languages, discovers the value of camouflage, and becomes a great friend to all of the animals on the island. Just as things become calm and peaceful, however, new robots arrive to take Roz back to the factory, and it’s up to the animals to save Roz.  The book raises interesting questions about the difference between instincts and programming, between certain animal actions and robot actions, about what it means to be alive and to be a parent, about climate change, and about animal habitats and ecosystems.  It would make a great companion to curricula about artificial intelligence or the environment.  Playful yet (as Brown describes them) “dark and moody” illustrations are included throughout, and the back includes a couple of interesting pages about how Brown decided to write the book.  For those who want to learn more, he also has a very interesting blog post about the subject:  http://www.peterbrownstudio.com/uncategorized/the-wild-robot/.  I can’t recommend this one highly enough. One of my absolute favorites.  A sequel is due out later this year.

Lucy’s Lab: Nuts About Science

by Michelle Houts, illustrated by Elizabeth Zechel

Lucy is thrilled to be in 2nd grade, where her classroom even has a science lab!  But she’s also dismayed that the big oak tree outside her school was cut down over the summer.  Where will the squirrels live?  Together with her girly cousin Cora and some of their classmates, Lucy protests outside the school asking for a new tree.  The principal agrees to ask the PTA for the funds for a new tree if Lucy writes a report about why the tree is important.  Lucy transforms her backyard playhouse into a science lab, complete with “lab coats” (her dad’s dress shirts) and goggles (sunglasses).  At the library, Lucy researches “Oak Wilt,” the disease the previous tree had.  Then, she writes a report recommending a new tree, and Cora adds illustrations.  At the end of the story, the school plants a new tree, and Lucy is happy but also and disappointed to see a sapling rather than a full-size tree.

Lucy is a great character--her favorite color is brown “because lots of good things are brown. Like caramel and chocolate...And not only is brown delicious, it’s interesting. Like brown worms...And mud pots are brown...And tree bark is brown. And it hides a zillion crawly things.”  Lucy’s cousin Cora has quite opposite taste--her favorite color is pink--but the girls get along well and have funny conversations:  

“Do you ever wonder what would happen if you woke up one morning and Granite City was gone and you were in a magical kingdom and you lived in a palace instead of a house and you rode a unicorn instead of a bike?” Cora asks, twirling in circles.

“I don’t think so.” It’s true. I don’t think I’ve ever, not once, thought about what would happen if I woke up one morning, and Granite City was gone, and I was in a magical kingdom, and lived in a palace instead of a house, and rode a unicorn instead of my bike.

There’s also some good discussion about being “smart” being part of growth mindset rather than something we’re born with.  After Lucy explains some facts about trees to Cora, Cora asks “How do you know this stuff, Lucy?...You are so smart!” and Lucy replies “I just read it right here...I’m not any smarter than you are.”

Overall, a very sweet book for young chapter-book readers.

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. 1223868 and 1223460.  Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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