Thursday, March 24, 2022

The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess by Tom Gauld

I don't generally cover picture books here. I haven't read picture books regularly for years - my sons are 23 and 21 now, so they've somewhat grown out of my reading Arnie the Doughnut to them. [1] But I am a Tom Gauld fan, so when I saw he had a picture book out, any my library had it, well, how could I resist?

The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess is a fantasy story to read to fairly young children - or for slightly older children to read themselves - so it is not quite as sarcastic or filled with science-y and literary terms as Gauld's cartoons for The Guardian or New Scientist. But it's still pretty clearly a Tom Gauld book.

Gauld's short comics tend to be about moments and conjunctions: they have lots of scientific or literary references, but his people are deeply sensible: they might open wormholes to alternate universes and/or hell dimensions, but that's because they meant to do that. They spend three years getting planning approval and negotiating budget to do exactly that, and they are usually quietly happy at their successes.

His children characters, here, have some of that same pluck. The king and queen of the usual unnamed fantasy kingdom don't have any biological children, so they each seek out an expert and get children other ways: an inventor builds a wooden robot boy, and a witch conjures a magical princess (who, unfortunately, turns into a log when she falls asleep).

As you can see from the cover, a mishap ensues, and the two end up deep in the wilderness, trying to get home - first led by the robot, then by the princess. And it will take more than their combined efforts to do so - but, luckily, they have more than just each other.

This is a fun modern fairy tale, appropriately on the light side for its young audience. It's also lovely to see Gauld working on large pages again: it feels like it's been a while since Mooncop and Goliath. This does not have the depth of those books, but it didn't aim for that: this is a fairy tale for people whose ages have only one digit so far, and it's very good at doing what it sets out to do.

[1] Note: Arnie the Doughnut is still one of the most awesome picture books ever, and I will brook no contradiction here.

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