Ultrabot is a massive, several-stories-tall robot who lives on Primrose Lane with its professor. An aerial view of the street in the book’s opening illustration proves that their warehouse of a home is an anomaly in the suburban neighborhood in which it sits, but author-illustrator Josh Schneider keeps the humor understated. For one, when Ultrabot learns from the professor that Becky Tingle from next door is coming over for a playdate, no one bats an eye—except for Ultrabot. “NEGATIVE,” it says.
Just like a human child, the robot is nervous that it may not be compatible with a new playmate. But things go swimmingly, and a friendship is forged. The book’s charms lie in its dry humor (and the use of a font called Joystick, used sparingly to render Ultrabot’s words), as well as the juxtaposition of words and images. “Becky showed Ultrabot how to draw a cat,” we read. While she does so on a human-size canvas, we see in a small insert on the recto that Ultrabot is capable of drawing a cat on nothing less than the surface of the moon, thanks to a powerful laser at his command. When Ultrabot decides it is “safe to share its toys with Becky,” we see that, as it jets through the upper atmosphere, Becky is nearby in a small plane, piloting it herself with a look of elation.
Ultrabot may be metal and larger than life, but its apprehension over making friends—and its happiness in having succeeded at doing so—is as human as ever.
Julie Danielson conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.