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Robot Dreams


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Friendship. Betrayal. Healing. And moving on. Robot Dreams depicts twelve months in dreams and quiet moments in the life of a dog and a robot. Now in paperback from Square Fish.

About the Author

Originally from outside Chicago, Sara Varon now resides in Brooklyn, where she likes to ride her bike, see movies, and hang out with dogs. Her other books include Sweaterweather, Bake Sale, and Chicken and Cat, and she illustrated Odd Duck.


A dog purchases a robot kit so that he might have a friend to hang out with. The robot, a mellow type, enjoys hanging out with the dog, eating popcorn, watching movies, and going to the library. A trip to the beach, however, turns out to be a less than stellar idea when the robot goes swimming only to rust up and find that it can no longer move. The dog goes home for the night, intending to take the robot along later. Unfortunately, the beach is closed the next day and the poor robot is stuck on the sand, dreaming of things both good and bad. As the months go by, both robot and dog have their own small adventures, real and unreal. By the end, however, they each find new and separate companions. The last image in the book is of the robot seeing the dog with another robot, and understanding that this is a case when you've just got to let the person you love go.
A lonely dog builds a robot, and the friends begin a journey of adventure, mistakes, irony, relationships, joy, sadness, dreams, and forgiveness. Emotional experiences are shared without a word in this graphic novel that elicits laughter, tears, and a realization of the complexity of friendships. This story begins at the library where the dog and robot find travel information. At the beach, they play in the water - a poor decision on the part of the metallic robot who is left lying on the beach, unable to move. Dog returns to repair his friend only to find the beach closed for the season. In following months, the robot's dreams of being rescued and returning to his friend are shown in wavy lines with neutral hues, while the activities of each are in color. Their paths cross again as robot, redesigned as a radio, sees dog with a new robot friend and plays sweet music for them.
By and large, "Robot Dreams" is that rare combination of the sweet and the emotionally resonant. To me, this is basically a story about friendship, love, and how to move on when your heart's been broken. It just happens to also be wrapped up in a very innocent tale of a dog and his robot. Undoubtedly this will fly right under the radar of a lot of people who will miss the serious thread lurking beneath the pretty packaging. It's no easy task to produce a narrative sequence without a single spoken word. Harder still to drill home a heart's journey. Varon, then, is one to watch out for. A weirdly magnificent tale.
Dogs like company. Mostly they hang around with other dogs, but sometimes with robots. Or so Sara Varon would have us believe, and this wordless graphic novel has us very much believing. Robot Dreams is sophisticatedly understated, with subtle gestural cues and colors in a minor key, yet the blossoming friendship between the dog and the robot is unmistakably joyful. It is also a friendship born under a dark star. "The book is about everyone who ever lost or grew out of a friendship," says Varon, whose own star is fast rising on the graphic novel/indy comic stage. "Sometimes in our own lives, things go surprisingly wrong or work out differently than we would want or expect. I hope readers will find it interesting to see how my two characters make the best of their bad deal." The dog seeks new friends, and the robot dreams of better circumstances, since they can't get much worse: abandoned at the beach, covered by a blanket of snow for much of the time, only to wind up in a scrap yard. Still, Fate has more in wait for the robot, including a family of robins nesting in his armpit and a new life in music. "The book sounds kind of gloomy," says Varon, "and strange. But the characters still have fun at this odd moment in their lives, even in the midst of unhappiness, just like we all do."
Featured in May 2007 issue of Kirkus
NCTE Notable Book in the Language Arts Review
Recommended Book in the November 2007 issue of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Review in July 2007 issue of Library Journal
Review in 1st July 2007 issue of Kirkus
Starred review in 6/12/06 Publisher's Weekly
Starred Review in August 2007 Booklist
Starred Review in September First 2007 issue of School Library Journal
The wordless graphic novel for children. Adults, quite frankly, haven't a clue how to deal with them. But for those kids intimidated by words, new to the English language, or just fond of visual storytelling, these new forms of literature are nothing less than a godsend. From the picture book-sized, "The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard," to Andy Runton's remarkably popular, "Owly" series, wordless has never been hotter amongst the young 'uns. More to the point, graphic novel imprint First Second has never been intimidated by new formats. Its mighty peculiar "A.L.I.E.E.E.N.," for example, was essentially wordless (not to say wuh-eird weird weird). Though First Second may tend to look to other nations for their stories, they're certainly not afraid of a little homegrown talent on the side. Enter Sara Varon. Best known at the moment for the wordless picture book "Cat and Chicken," this Brooklyn resident has produced a full-blown novel of remarkable sweetness. Linear and lovely, broken up with daydreams and fantasies, "Robot Dreams" is a small "simple" story of friendship and letting go. Relationships have never pared down so perfectly.
Varon spots her book with little shout-outs to her various interests and inspirations. Canny readers will notice that near the end the robot and its raccoon friend are reading books like "The Rabbi's Cat," by Joann Sfar. I was intrigued by this mention of a fellow graphic novelist. Yet as my husband was quick to point out, Varon is rather similar to Sfar in that her stories are about extraordinary creatures doing relatively mundane things. Of course, my husband also says that this book is akin to "The Giving Tree," had the tree found someone new to love it instead of that nasty boy. I couldn't disagree more, but I thought I'd mention it here, just in case you want to see for yourself whether or not it's true.
You get certain ideas about a book when you look at it. Reading about the concept and glancing at the cover, I had the vague idea that the title would be a series of small adventures shared by the dog and the robot. So when the robot seized up 18 pages into the narrative and was abandoned by his companion (with more than 150 pages to go) I admit that I was a little shocked. Out the window go all my assumptions about the story. Though it's difficult to call it "writing" without having any words to direct you to, Varon's grasp of what makes a good narrative serves her very well here. It doesn't hurt matters any that I also love Varon's style. She's one of those deceptively simple artists. You feel a real and solid attachment to the creatures she's created, no matter how odd they may seem. There's also a real emotional arc to the tale. For example the robot at one point dreams of the betrayal it would feel if the dog found a new robot to hang out with (as it does later in the story). The dog, for its part, finds a variety of different friends during its travels. Birds. Anteaters. A snowman that comes to such a subtle end that it makes Raymond Briggs look like a murderer in comparison.

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