The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess
In cartoonist Tom Gauld’s first picturebook for children, a king and queen and their children (a little wooden robot built by the royal inventor and a log princess crafted by the good witch) live happily ever before, until the robot prince forgets to say the ritual magic words that every morning turn his sister from a lump of wood into a little girl.
What is it about kings and queens? The monarchy provides the perfect excuse for a fairy-tale set-up, where family is family and rules are rules, but with an extra grand, magical or quirky twist. In Gauld’s case, this means a pretext for wonderful illustrations of characters, buildings and backgrounds that rely on symmetry, repetition of patterns and left-of-centre zany details. The royal inventor’s lab and the witch’s hut are fantastic personal spaces dedicated to the joy of creation and the importance of craft: they show the kind of organised chaos that ideas can stem from. There is plenty to spot for curious eyes, and young sleuths will also notice lots of echoes through the pages of other well-known stories, from Hansel and Gretel to Tomi Ungerer’s The Three Robbers. The boxy layout works well to evoke illuminated manuscripts of old, before being cast aside once the story breaches the confines of the kingdom, when the siblings leave the fairy tale behind to face the consequences of the rule-breaking and start their own adventure. This fun, quirky story of sibling love is on the longer side of picturebooks and would work as bridge towards chapter books, either as a read-aloud or for a newly independent reader.