The Saddest Little Robot – Brian Gage, 2003.

I ordered this book for the library based on an email my brother forwarded (I guess Gage is a friend-of-a-friend) and on the description of the goal of this imprint (Red Rattle Books): “a series aimed to satisfy the need for socially aware, nondidactic, sophisticated children’s literature that’s in line with the ideals of a new generation of parents.” I had my doubts about the possibility of reaching that goal, but was willing to give them a chance. Well…my doubts were well-founded. Good children’s books are HARD to write (which is why it’s so annoying to see the parade of lousy picture books by celebrities taking market share from the folks who are good at it!); writing with a stated moral goal without being didactic is also hard; and avoiding didacticism when writing for children is difficult to begin with. So it’s not surprising that Gage’s reach exceeds his grasp. It’s not a terrible book by any means, but it’s mediocre, and the ugly illustrations don’t help.

The main character is Snoot, a Drudgebot working in Dome City. (Already it’s hard to get past the names.) Snoot is different from the other Drudgebots–he’s funny-looking and too curious, so he gets a hard time from everyone. Drudgebots are the bottom rung, under Guardbots and Halobots, all under the guidance of Father Screen, who leads the chorus of “Happy Robots Produce Happy Fruit!” There’s a tribute to Karel Capek in RUR, the role model, most-productive robot. Robots are supposed to be delighted with their jobs, refrain from asking questions, and never leave the dome. Outside the scary Gremborgs lie in wait and there’s no lifegiving light. It’s a retread of We, 1984, Brave New World, and the whole dystopic genre. Guess what? Snoot leaves the dome! And guess what? What Father Screen has been saying about the Gremborgs isn’t true!

The Dome is on an asteroid, we were told at the very beginning, so it can’t have an atmosphere; yet Snoot not only meets two fireflies, Tik and Tak (deeply annoying characters who speak in rhyme), but also a wise old caterpillar who lives in an apple tree. And you’ll never guess what happens to the caterpillar at the end of the book!

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