Thursday, May 10, 2018

Rusty the Squeaky Robot by Neil Clark (Words and Pictures)

Rarely has a book caused such a fuss and provoked such a quandary as this one. Prepare for a brutally honest review as demanded by "The Boss"...
"Rusty the Squeaky Robot" by Neil Clark is the sort of book I almost dread turning up, because by rights it's the sort of book we normally wouldn't cover on the blog.

I've always said that we would opt for not reviewing something rather than being critically unkind about it, but after a lot of interesting debate at home between myself (the word-writing monkey) and C (the reviewing talent, or "The Boss" as she likes to be known) we thought we'd put this one to the sword.

On the face of it, "Rusty the Squeaky Robot" is actually a really great idea. Written to underline the mantra echoed by so many children's books at the moment (and an important mantra at that) that "Different is good" the story is about a little robot named Rusty who has developed a rather annoying squeak.

Rusty worries that his life is over, no one will want to make friends with him, his days will be filled with woe but he soon meets others who have their own noises and quirks, and they become firm friends - a merry noisemaking robotic band of pals whose noises all compliment each other, providing a rhythmic backbeat to life.

Let's do the "Good news, Bad news" thing here.

As C points out, the book has some really good things going for it. The idea of using robotic characters is great (we don't see nearly enough robot books, and we do love them normally), the book's core message is laudable and Neil's illustrations are superb quality (from the press release it's not difficult to see why he's had a fantastic and successful career in all forms of illustration, his work is sharp, crisp, colourful and engaging).

Also on the good side of things, this is a book that will delight a young audience. We're fully aware that, with the passage of time, picture books are becoming more and more difficult to review for us - as C's patience with some of the stuff obviously written for the very young (3-5 year age group) is evidently wearing thinner and thinner as the years pass (such is the life of a book blogger, adapt and survive I guess!)

Time to wheel out the bad news then. C's main issue with this book was the quality of writing. We both read this one aloud, several times through in fact, and it felt like it'd never seen an editorial or critical touch at all in the writing (that frustrated the hell out of me too, as a would-be writer I've been on the receiving end of so many rejections on the basis of things that this book steamrollers all over and gets away with, that I can't help but wonder if being an author-illustrator means you get more of a welcome reception from agents / publishers than someone who just mashes words together).

The problem mostly revolved around the structure and the rhymes, which were as rusty and clanky as a broken service droid - in fact later in the book we weren't even sure that Neil was trying to make things rhyme any more, the flow seemed to disintegrate more and more as the book progressed (again it's not the first time we've seen this happen with a rhyming book, to be fair).

Writing rhyming books is hard, uber-hard and this is probably why a lot of agents automatically turn their noses up at them at point of submission, so we were trying to figure out how this one squeezed past.

For books for the intended age group, particularly rhyming books, the words have to flow, they have to trip off the tongue faultlessly for the adult reader reading to their own little ones, and they most certainly have to do the same for young readers picking up the book for the first time as they take their own first faltering solo reading steps.

We didn't come away from this story feeling like either of those boxes had been ticked (and again, a lot of this could be because C is extremely fussy when it comes to those cludgy rhymes like "Ground" and "Down" - to quote just one example of many in this story).

So for us the core message was lost, eroded by this feeling like it needed a lot more polish, tweaking and restructuring in order to fit the great ideas offered up here into something that's as pleasurable to read aloud as it is to look at.

Hopefully this critique will be taken in good humour. You can see why we opt to pass over books like this normally can't you, we hate being mean but when C goes into Craig Revell-Horwood mode, you've got to go with what the boss demands.

"Rusty the Squeaky Robot" by Neil Clark is out now, published by Words and Pictures (kindly supplied for review).