She’s Building a Robot

Mango Pub. Nov. 2020. 156p. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781642503418.
Gr 4-6–AZ is a middle school student who is clever, but generally not the best in her class. The book opens with AZ solving a logic puzzle in class before the star student, Dalk, who just so happens to be the genius son of a Silicon Valley robotics CEO. Dalk does not take kindly to being upstaged by AZ and tries to force an apology from her for cheating on the puzzle—but AZ decides to enter the Robotics Competition instead, to prove that she truly has the smarts to beat him. After her first attempts are less than satisfactory, she manages to run into Lucia Machado, a local robotics celebrity who decides to help AZ form a team that will finally put Dalk in his place. While the premise of the book is sound, and the included logic puzzles and mathematical definitions will help keep readers engaged, (as will the in-text tribute to Ada Lovelace), there are significant literary issues evident throughout. Most of the characters feel flat and unrealistic, and there are inconsistencies in the text, plot, and style. For example, AZ is called to a meeting in her school office with a stranger who is not a family member or a teacher, which is odd in itself; but in the next chapter, she mentions to the school librarian that the mysterious Lucia Machado had visited her at her home. These types of errors, coupled with confusing writing and moments of pure science fiction in a book otherwise seemingly rooted in reality, may make it hard for readers to suspend disbelief or fully grasp the plot.
VERDICT With a bit more polish, this could serve as a stepping stone to teaching children teamwork and programming skills.

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