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The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess | Review

The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess cover

The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess
Writer/artist: Tom Gauld
Neal Porter Books; $18.99

It’s the classic fairy tale story. An older, childless couple seek extraordinary means to get a child, so the man visits an inventor, who builds them a robot son out of delicate wooden machinery, while the woman simultaneously visits a witch, who enchants an ordinary log to become a little girl. Okay, so maybe cartoonist Tom Gauld’s The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess isn’t quite the classic fairy tale, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it one day becomes a classic, given how assured Gauld’s storytelling is, how intimately familiar his narrative is and how engaging his artwork is.

The older couple in The Little Wooden Robot are a king and queen, and they consult their own experts without consulting one another, the good news being that they get not one but two little children of their own, and something of an instant little family.

The children each have their own limitations, however; the robot’s parts can and will eventually wear out and run down and need repair, and the little princess turns back into an ordinary log when she falls asleep at night, needing the magic words “Awake, little log, awake” to be spoken to her for her to resume her human shape.

Things go awry for the royal siblings one day when the sleeping princess is mistaken for a regular log, and shipped far away to the frozen North among a ship full of logs. The robot follows, intent on finding his sister among all the other, ordinary logs and, when he does, bringing her safely back home.

When his parts fail during the long journey, however, he awakens her, and then she must try to bring him back home before falling asleep and resuming her log form forever.

In typical Gauld fashion, each sibling has a whole series of adventures that are only named but not described, leaving it to the young reader to decide what exactly, say, the story of “The Magic Pudding” or “The Lonely Bear” actually is. (Each child embarks on six such adventures, in which Gauld draws only one panel’s worth of illustration to suggest what it might entail.)

This being a fairy tale, everything ultimately works out okay for the pair, thanks to their devotion to one another and thanks, especially, to a small act of kindness that ends up paying life-saving dividends before the story concludes.

Gauld’s art is probably most familiar to adult readers from his comic strips about literature and science for The Guardian and New Scientist respectively, strips in which he similarly suggests exciting side stories without telling them exactly. He’s previously created a pair of graphic novels for adults, Goliath and Mooncop, and this is his first work for children (and, of course, grown-ups who like fairy tales).

The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess, something of a hybrid between a children’s book and a comic book in its format, presents Gauld’s art bigger and more colorfully than ever before, though, and it’s fun to see what he can do with the bigger, wider spaces and the different opportunities the huge rectangles of each page give him, compared to the tiny comic strip panels his work is usually confined to, his figures in his strips often appearing as silhouettes or something akin to fleshed-out stick figures.

His style remains the same, but it is here closer and more immersive than in any of his previously published work. It is also filled with details; while each page is simple in its basic construction and visual flow, some images are positively crowded with visual information, like the cover, rewarding lingering on them (always a welcome aspect in a book a grown-up might read to a child; there’s plenty for a child to look at and work out while the grown-up focuses on the words).

Readers of all ages should live happily ever after following time spent with the book. Or at least happily for awhile after, if not ever after.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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