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Tom Gauld’s picture book with wooden robots and stump princesses

Tom Gauld’s picture book with wooden robots and stump princesses
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Tom Gauld’s picture book with wooden robots and stump princesses

NOf course, Tom Gauld kept the best idea to himself. In March 2021, a comic artist and illustrator in his weekly Guardian cartoons, mostly set in the world of libraries, reading and writing, sketched an algorithm that spits out a one-sentence story about artificial intelligence. There are several variations on the subject and all attributes, so it can be a lonely, crazy, dying or well-meaning scientist, billionaire, plumber or inventor who creates a super-intelligent, dysfunctional, beautiful, scary or gigantic robot who in turn wants to be friends with people, understand them, kill them or imitate them.

The thrill of great simplicity with subtle meaning that is typical of Tom Gauld is also present in this cartoon. When figures with clear contours and simple forms and bright colors appear in simple drawings, dots and lines are usually enough for him to indicate facial expression. Even those who have read his latest picture book, The Little Wooden Robot and the Stump Princess, will be delighted by its simplicity – and yet they can hardly be surprised.

A trip with my sister

Here it is an inventor, a royal inventor, who builds a brave and kind wooden robot on behalf of Her Majesty: The royal couple have been left childless in this tale, and while the ruler goes to the inventor, his wife pleads with the wily old man. witch child. The witch also does what she can, so the little wooden robot gets the stump princess by her side. The only quirk: when she sleeps, she turns back into a block of wood that the witch has summarily breathed life into, and only the magic spell “Wake up, block, wake up” wakes her up and turns her back into a princess.

Tom Gauld: The Little Wooden Robot and the Stump Princess.  Translated from English by Jörg Mühle.  Moritz Verlag, Frankfurt 2022. 40 pages, hardcover, €18.  From 4 years


Tom Gauld: The Little Wooden Robot and the Stump Princess. Translated from English by Jörg Mühle. Moritz Verlag, Frankfurt 2022. 40 pages, hardcover, €18. From 4 years
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Image: Moritz Verlag


Fate takes its own course when, one fine morning, instead of a wooden robot, she is the first unsuspecting maid to come to the princess’s bed, only to find a block of wood there and throw it out the window without further ado. Lucky for the log to end up in the frozen north along with thousands and thousands of others. Fortunately, the wooden robot makes the trip and finds his sister in a huge pile of wood. Now all they have to do is get home.

The robot decides that the best way is for the stump princess to travel as a piece of wood. But the robot is also made of wood and is not made for the hardships of this long journey – not to mention the adventures it must endure along the way. With his knuckles stiff and his cogs worn out, he rouses the stump princess with the last of his strength, and now it’s up to her to bring them home. And of course, it’s up to her to have a series of adventures as well. The only thing is, he can’t fall asleep.

“Too many adventures to recount here”

“The little wooden robot and the princess from the stump” impresses at first glance with its charming simplicity, friendliness and harmlessness. The character of the inventor and her wooden robot creation itself stands out from Tom Gauld’s play with classic fairy tale motifs, the page layout itself with panels like in comics – but without bubbles – expands the scope of a classic picture book. But the devil isn’t in the details here, it’s a joke. Tom Gauld works with laconism and reduction of text and image. The fact that he sets up a handcart with a wooden robot at night next to a piece of wood in a clearing in the forest seems almost trivial, because childish picture book viewers and their readers must be seriously worried about their two heroes at this point. .

The way she casually alludes to “too many adventures to tell them all” as she wanders first the robot, then the princess, lays the most beautiful cuckoo’s egg in her viewer’s nest. Gauld devotes a page to each of them with six pictures and fairy-tale titles, and anyone who reads the book will immediately be challenged to invent for themselves what adventures such as “The Magic Pudding”, “The Old Bottle Lady”, “The Wicked Elves” or ” Baby in a rosebush” is about everything.

You can guess what happens when the princess wants to close her eyes for a while on her hike. But you don’t understand how Tom Gauld brings his story to a fairy-tale good ending. It’s a good thing the lovable robot is nice enough to let a family of bugs live in his gearbox. How well the bugs know what to do when it’s suddenly so quiet. And it’s good that a smart witch doesn’t just do magic.

Tom Gauld: “The Little Wooden Robot and the Stump Princess”. Translated from English by Jörg Mühle. Moritz Verlag, Frankfurt 2022. 40 pages, hardcover, €18. From 4 years

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