________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 21. . . .February 6, 2015


Rafa Was My Robot.

Alexandra Dellevoet. Art by Ken Turner.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2014.
32 pp., pbk., hc., pdf & epub, $9.95 (pbk.), $19.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55451-678-0 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55451-679-7 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55451-681-0 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-55451-680-3 (epub).

Preschool-grade 2 / Ages 4-7.

Review by Rebecca King.

* /4



Rafa was a robot made out of scraps and a whole lot of love. Jacob took Rafa everywhere. To swim lessons, to school, to Paris, to Stockholm, to meet Norman the doorman, and even to a faraway galaxy. Then one day Rafa didn't feel so hot. So Jacob took him to see the doctor.


So begins the story, Rafa Was My Robot. As the story continues, the doctor reveals that Rafa is running out of juice. No, not that kind; his battery needed replacing. Jacob spends many of Rafa's last days searching for the special battery. Meanwhile, Rafa gets weaker and weaker. Finally, Jacob returns, unable to find the battery, for Rafa's dying moments. "Jacob cried and cried and cried, until he filled the tub with all his sadness. He wondered how he would go on without Rafa." Jacob buries Rafa and makes a special place where he could visit Rafa every day. He makes a pillow with a drawing of Rafa on it that he sleeps with at night saying, "If I don't meet you today, then I'll meet you tonight. In my dreams."

internal art     In an author's note on the title page’s verso, Dellevoet explains that the death of a friend and his concern for how his eight-year-old nephew would deal with grief at his death inspired her to write this book. She says she has "researched children's books on the subject of loss and found very few options.... I hope that this book will be a help to parents, guardians, and all people who are dealing with children who have lost a loved one--whether it is a robot, pet, friend, or family member. Death is difficult for adults to navigate, and even more so for young children." The questions to ask are perhaps, "Was Dellevoet correct in her assessment that there are few options in children's picture books dealing with grief?" and "Was she successful in her production of a book?". First, a quick check of the subject heading "grief" in the union catalogue for the Halifax Regional School Board retrieves 23 titles, and the Halifax Public Library lists 25 books in the pre-school collection, with more included in the school-aged collection. The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, by Judith Viorst, deals with the death of a cat, I Remember Miss Perry, by Pat Brisson, deals with the death of a teacher, and Wild Girl & Gran, by Nan Gregory, deals with the death of a girl's grandmother. Any of these could be applied to a child's particular type of loss as easily as the death of a robot. Second, was Dellevoet successful in her book? The text for this book is spare, one to three sentences per page. The language is simple and direct, using vocabulary that is appropriate to the target age of 4-7 years: "[Jacob] was worried and scared and somehow knew that he had to hurry." While the storyline is sad, with her illustrator's support, the author has occasionally offered us the chance to smile. When Jacob is first told that Rafa needs "juice", a frame is filled with juice boxes. The text, "Jacob turned the world upside down looking for the battery", is under a picture of Jacob flying a plane under an upside-down drawing of the Sydney, Australia, opera house. When Jacob sends a postcard to Rafa from Mexico, he notes that a helpful dog ate his taco. Dellevoet occasionally surprised me with a particularly effective turn of phrase: "Jacob cried and cried and cried, until he filled the tub with all his sadness."

      The illustrations in this book are by Ken Turner, an illustrator and animation filmmaker from Halifax, NS. Turner's background in animation is evident in the style of the illustrations which are stylistically consistent and have a good sense of flow. The emotions Jacob is feeling are clearly expressed in the illustrations. The dark ink wash used in the illustrations that are fraught with emotion emphasizes Jacob's dread, depression, and grief. In some cases, however, the wash is overwhelming and renders the picture muddy and difficult to visually comprehend. Composition is used effectively to give a sense of energy or rest. Yet the illustrations and colour palette do not appeal to me, and the design choice of the bile yellow background colour surrounding each illustration certainly doesn't add to their appeal. The bright yellow frames constrict the illustrations, leaving no room for the eye to rest. There is no place for text in each illustration.

      While Rafa Was My Robot has some good points, it did not bring a tear to my eye or cause me to hug it to my chest and say, "How wonderful" when I finished it. If a library needed a book about dealing with grief, there other titles that would be stronger choices.

Not Recommended.

Rebecca King retired in July 2014 with 25 years of service as a Library Support Specialist with the Halifax Regional School Board.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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