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Little Robot Blogtour: Q&A With Ben Hatke

As mentioned previously, Fleen is happy to contribute today to the ongoing celebration of Ben Hatke’s Little Robot, a wholly delightful book you may recall from our review.

Gina Gagliano at :01 Books was kind enough to arrange for Mr Hatke to answer some questions, which we present below; as the questions touch on specifics of things that happen in the books, be away that here be spoilers.

Fleen: The first thing that struck me about this book is how vocally quiet it is — there’s very little speaking out loud and barely any dialogue. What was the motivation to approach the story this way, and what were the challenges in telling a story this way?

Ben Hatke:Yes! that was one of the goals I had in mind: telling a story with very spare or pared-down text. I wanted this book to inhabit a space between a completely silent comic and one with a lot of dialogue — a space where you can read the entire story and get it, more or less, without the words but for which the dialogue and text adds an additional layer of depth.

I tend to write for everyone rather than focusing too heavily on a target audience but that being said, this book was made with very beginning readers in mind.

Fleen: The second that that struck me (it took longer to realize than the quietness) is that there are no names in the story. What led you to that decision? And how do you identify the characters yourself? (I named each of the gizmos after their signature sounds.)

Hatke: I started working with the Little Robot through newspaper-style comic strips, and I never named the little guy. Nothing I thought of fit, and in the end it was never needed. So it ended up making sense to do the same thing for the girl in the longer story. Plus I think it makes it a wee bit easier for a reader to identify with her. It’s a very immediate and experiential type of story (I think) so I hope the idea of unnamed protagonists works!

Fleen: Speaking of the little girl, she’s unlike almost any other children’s book main character I’ve seen: she’s female, brown, rural, and if not in outright poverty, certainly lacking economic privilege. Where did she come from in your creative process, and why did she insist on being the POV character for this book?

Hatke:I drew her dozens of times and in many different ways and watched her gradually take shape and become herself. Early versions were lighter skinned with dark hair and, frankly, looked a little too much like Zita. But also as she took shape visually her personality grew into this tinkering, shy, mechanically-minded introvert. There’s a lot there that I personally identify with.

And as for the setting … visually this story takes place more or less in my backyard. For this book I literally went out for walks with a sketchbook and pulled most of the locations directly from life.

Fleen: There’s a great message about friendship in Little Robot, but it’s the most mature and evolved one I’ve seen in a children’s book. How do you see children reacting to the message that friendship is wonderful, but also messy and filled with stumbles, missteps, betrayals?

Hatke: I wonder how they will react? I don’t know! I hope they nod knowingly and say yes, that is what it is like. Children are wise.

Fleen: There’s a big contrast between the environments in the story; the little girl is able to move between them, but which is the one that feeds her curiosity the most? The natural world, the high-tech robot facility, or the junkyard (which is what happens when technology gets set aside and nature goes to work on it)?

Hatke: I think the junkyard is probably her natural habitat. For her it’s like having a fully-stocked workshop where everyone else probably mostly leaves her in peace to tinker.

Fleen thanks Ben Hate, Gina Gagliano, and everybody at :01 Books for helping put this conversation together. If you haven’t gotten a copy of Little Robot for the kid(s) in your life (or yourself, that’s allowed), please do so. It’s a delight. The Little Robot blogtour concludes tomorrow at Cuddlebuggery.

Spam of the day:
We’re giving spam the day off, seeing as how Hatke’s book has put us in too good a mood to deal with spammers.

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