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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Guest Post! Trucks and TROBO the Storytelling Robot

A very good friend of mine, from high school, has formed a company that makes an interactive plush robot named TROBO. TROBO is adorably cute, and they are currently fundraising on Kickstarter for their first production run. You can go now and pre-order your own TROBO. Chris has agreed to write a guest post for Books. Lists. Life. and as a parent of a toddler, has chosen to send me a book review. That seems fitting, no?
(Chris is the one in yellow.)
Trucks Get Stuck – A Board Book Review

I’m a father with a 2and a half year old named Asher.  He loves cars, trucks, and trains.  Our bedtime book collection heavily reflects this.  At about the 8th book into our collection of truck books, I began to see a theme with truck books.  They all get stuck somehow or have to get someone else unstuck.  On the surface, it seems like “truck” and “stuck” rhyme, so why not make a book about it?  In fact there is an adorable favorite in our collection who’s title is a little too on the nose for this blog, called, “My Truck Is Stuck”.
So since there is a common theme, I am reviewing a few of our favorites.  Since I mentioned “My Truck Is Stuck”, by Kevin Lewis and Daniel Kirk, let’s start there.  Though the title, in this context, is a little obvious, the storytelling totally works.  This poor chap does get his truck stuck, and enlists the help of many different vehicles, including a Jeep branded Wrangler to help him get out, finally succeeding with the help of a… well let’s not give it all away.  But here’s the fun spin on this yarn, his truck gets stuck, because a pile of sneaky beavers set a trap, and they’re slowly over the story, whittling away his huge payload of bones.  You don’t catch it until the end, but it creates a wonderful little chuckle every time you’re reading it before bedtime.  The rhyming is slightly repetitive, but the meter flows pretty well.  I recommend this book for its creative spin on why the truck gets stuck and the subplot of the great bone caper the beavers pull off.  Lastly, the artwork is jut adorable and inspires me to whip out my pastels and try the style for my own characters.

Next up, “Red Truck”, by Kersten Hamilton and Valeria Petrone, is a delightful tale of not how our truck gets stuck, but how our tow truck is perfect for getting others out of a jam.  This one has less overall verbiage than I may like, but the experience still works.  It also incorporates special effects on some words, like “zoom”, and “vroom” encouraging mom and dad to sound out the story, making it more interesting than just a poetic read.  We follow the tale of how our red truck saves a stalled school bus full of children trapped in the snow.  It took me a little time to get used to the artwork, as some of the perspective seems off.  But then again, it’s a children’s book and is clearly crafted with intention.  My favorite page is a two-page spread on page 7, where the truck goes up a large, squirrely hill.  It’s text says, “Can Red Truck make it up the hill? Red Truck CAN, Red Truck WILL!”  - what a nice metaphor for overcoming tough obstacles. 

Lastly, I’d like to highlight a series that is a character-driven, personal favorite. “Little Blue Truck”, by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry is built around a meek old farm truck, that gives friendly honks and advice to frogs, other cars, and people.  Little Blue Truck (LBT) finds himself in tough situations and uses kindness and friendship to solve his story problems.  First, in “Little Blue Truck Leads the Way”, we see LBT mosey into the city.  Although we don’t get to know why he’s there, we can assume from the art that he’s bringing melons in from the farm to sell.  He gets mesmerized by everything being larger than he is, and quickly runs into stereotypical New York crabby-cabbie style cars, that just want him to get out of their way.  A traffic jam ensues, and LBT helps everyone calm down and get out of it single file.  The meter in the text is pristine, making for a friendly, poetic read, that you can spontaneously turn into song, should you choose to do so.  The artwork is very complex and detailed.  Though a good Photoshop rendering can fool anyone, I believe this is a refreshing use of traditional paints (either acrylics or oils).   Jill uses a lot of dry brush techniques to communicate motion, and though her attention to building detail is remarkable, my favorite page is 15-16, where a big street sweeper is kicking up a mountain of dust.  Asher’s is 19-20, where he gets a bird’s eye view of the traffic jam, full of cars and buildings. 
The second book we got was, “Little Blue Truck”, which was published a year earlier.  This jaunt through farm country introduces us to all the friendly animals LBT knows well.  One day a huge, extremely arrogant dump truck rumbles through, being rude to everyone, and lands himself in an enormous mud puddle.  Since he wasn’t nice, he has no one willing to help to get out until LBT steps up.  The artwork is beautiful and light-hearted, and my favorite panel is page 9-10, where the big dump barrels on through.  The only minor flaw in this book, is that they call the dump truck, “the Dump”, to help a rhyme work, which feels a little awkward.   My wife and I thought only these two titles existed, but during this blog, I’m pleased to have just found “Little Blue Truck's Christmas”, which I am ordering next.  And as my wife , Asher, and I say on the last page, “Thanks little blue truck” for all the happy bed time readings.
Chris Harden is a husband, father and the cofounder of TROBO the Storytelling Robot, a talking plush toy and interactive digital board book series that teaches kids 2-7 about science and engineering.  TROBO is currently live on Kickstarter at

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