“A year spent in artificial intelligence is enough to make one believe in God.”—Alan Perlis
The draw of The Wild Robot is definitely its premise. We’ve all read stories of characters trying to survive in the wilderness in books like Hatchet and Robinson Crusoe. We’ve also read futuristic stories of robots who have evolved to act more and more like humans. Rarely, however, are the two instances put together as they are in this novel. Peter Brown brings us this intriguing situation and, I admit, this is what drew me to the book.
The story begins with a ship being caught in a storm and a box of robots being tossed onto the shore. Each robot is descriptively thrown against the rocks and destroyed save one, Roz. Our robot, Roz is turned on and slowly begins to discover her new whereabouts, an island free of humans but teaming with wildlife. Slowly she learns the language of the animals and observes their behaviors before making her approach. She is not well-received by the native creatures and is outcast and called a monster at the beginning.
Determined to be a good robot, Roz slowly begins to befriend the other animals on the island by helping them. She can do things the other animals can’t and so she trades favors with the animals. Roz also learns her effect on nature. At one point in the story, she creates a chain reaction that inadvertently kills a family of geese. She realizes that, though the deaths were unintentional, she was still the root cause. Roz does her best to fix the situation when she finds one of the eggs unharmed and saves the gosling inside. She becomes his mother and the two become an unlikely family.
Throughout the novel, Roz becomes a strong, wonderful mother to her son and raises him to be strong and proud and a leader among the geese. She also becomes a leader and a protector of the animals on the island. She builds shelter for the animals in the winter, saving many of the animals, she promotes peace between the predators and prey, and she becomes someone they all trust.
As the story progresses readers are introduced to what is happening in the rest of human civilization. They find that robots are in almost every home. They are produced in factories and have become companions of humans. They are different than Roz, though. They are more ‘robotic’ (for lack of a better term) and don’t “care” like she does. Though Roz never claims to have feelings, she does always strive to be a better robot.
The turning point of the story occurs when three recon robots come looking for the lost robots on the island. They find the robot remains from the shipwreck and then begin to look for Roz. Roz refuses to go and the animals fight the recon robots and are able to defeat them. Roz realizes, however, that there will be more looking for her, and by this point she has been so badly injured that she decides to be taken in order to save the other animals on the island.
There are so many interesting discussions to be had with the novel. The obvious discussion of the creation of artificial intelligence is a big one, but there is so much more than that. There are relationships between robot and animal that can be analyzed, life issues presented by the deaths of the geese and the survival of the gosling, the life circle and how it is interrupted by Roz, and finally, the deaths of the robots and their comparison to human deaths.
I highly recommend this novel. It’s an excellent read for intermediate and middle school readers. There are wonderful lessons that can be prepared and it would be a great novel for beginning discussions on analysis. This novel allows for great discussion in human behavior because this story is really about ourselves and how we treat each other because, after all, every story is about us and our nature…isn’t it?
Possible Issues and Concerns
- For younger readers it may be disturbing to read the description of the shipwreck. The deaths of the robots sound much like human deaths might if they were smashed against rocks. They are called corpses.
- During the winter, many animals freeze to death. Sensitive children may have trouble reading this.
- One of the bears falls over a cliff. The bear turns out to be ok, but sensitive kids may have a problem with it initially.
- In what ways does Roz demonstrate human qualities? In what ways does she demonstrate robotic qualities?
- In the story, nature notices Roz and realizes that she doesn’t quite fit in. They call her a monster. How do humans sometimes act this way toward other humans? What can we learn from the story?
- What impact do you think Roz has had on the animals she comes in contact with? Has she made them kinder? More human? Safer?
- At the end of the story Roz’s body has been destroyed, she says, “I can still think and speak.” What does this teach us about life and our interaction with people who may be handicapped, or look different than we do?
- What does this book want us to learn about artificial intelligence? How is Roz different than the other robots we encounter?
- In what ways does life become an important discussion throughout the book?
- Saint Francis of Assissi is the patron saint of animals and ecology. Read more about him here. Celebrate St. Francis and nature using these 10 ideas from Real Life at Home.
- Use this AMAZING resource from the Archdiocese of Baltimore. It is full of lesson plans on respect for life, poverty, war, and environmental care. All issues dealt with in the novel. Click here to see it.
- Read about Saint Isidore of Seville who is the patron saint of technology.
- Read about Catholic social teaching on the advancement of technology.
General Teaching Resources
- Look at the list of resources from TeachingBooks.net.
- Observe nature-journal stream of consciousness-write poetry or descriptive paragraph.
- Read this interview with Peter Brown.
- Write a short sequel to the novel telling about what would happen to Roz if she returned to the island.
- Learn about Emily Dickinson. Read some of her nature poetry and use this lesson plan to help. (You can adapt it to your grade level.)
- Make a robot out of recycled materials. Use the video below to help: