I write this review on the train, sitting opposite a lady in a trench coat in her late 60s. She is noisily playing Candy Crush on her phone. She hasn’t looked up in the last ten minutes. Outside, a golden autumnal light casts a glow over the fields, unseen by her, and I am too distracted to appreciate it.
Among the endorsements on the cover of Peter Brown’s The Wild Robot Escapes, Piers Torday describes the book as ‘an Iron Man-style fable for the modern age’, and despite its presumably futuristic setting, its sentiments and themes are calmly yet demandingly pressing. What might be the terminus of our journey of technological progression? What might be lost along the way? May we become so absorbed by advancement, that we lose sight of what matters?
This generation of young readers is perhaps the least fazed by the pace of technological progress. The apps and games that they devote much of their energy to may well have a lifespan much shorter and more transient than that of the hamsters and gerbils that we grown-ups had, back in the age of analogue childhoods. This goes some way to explaining the positioning of the story in a place that feels ‘futuristic’, yet only in the way that, inevitably, the Playstation 5 will one day come along and supersede the Playstation 4. The future here is not dazzling, bright and eyebrow-raising. It is pretty similar to the present, but just quicker and more efficient.
When I shared The Wild Robot Escapes with pupils, they were immediately hooked, but curiously so. The many components were very familiar ‘children’s lit tropes’, such as the unknown potential of a robot, the villainy of wolves, the destructive power of the weather and the alliance between children and the beleaguered in the face of adults’ ignorance. Despite this, it is rare that these elements come together in such a soft and lingering moral tale.
As the plot thickens, the young readers will find themselves casting a quizzical eye around their bedrooms, pausing at their phones and iPads to wonder whether they too are strolling along the same path.
In other news, the lady opposite me still hasn’t looked up from her phone, and she is still playing Candy Crush…
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