Celia's Robot, by Margaret Chang (Holiday House, 2009, 211 pages)
Fifth grade is proving a somewhat rocky challenge for young Celia. She's feeling self-conscious about being Chinese-American, the boy who was her childhood friend, Tim, has turned into a teasing, mean, pest, her parents are busier and more stressed than ever with their careers (robotics for dad, music for mom). They just aren't around enough to make sure she'd done her homework and has clean clothes...in short, her life is a disaster.
Fortunately, her father has a solution, and presents Celia with a gift beyond her wildest dreams for her birthday--her own personal robot. This prototype of all that is wonderful in the field of robotics not only gets Celia up and out of the door, with her schedule completely under control....but becomes someone for her to rely on.
But evil robotics competitors have their greedy eyes on Celia's robot...and one snowy day, the robot is kidnapped!!!! It's up to Celia, and (not that she planned on it) Tim to save it...regardless of the very real dangers that lie ahead of them....
I so enjoyed the detailed descriptions of Celia's life with her robot, which comprises the bulk of the book (the dangerous bit comes late, and isn't that long). The minutiae of life with an automaton are beautiful explored in the context of an ordinary, stressful, fifth grade experience. And Celia, in her extraordinary circumstances, does manage to be ordinary, in the way that great middle grade heroines often are--plucky, dense at times but with a good brain and a good heart, curious hobbies (old fashioned lock picking), often times frazzled....Somehow she just hit the spot for me (maybe because I could use a robot myself to make sure I don't forget my own lunch...).
I highly recommend this to the general middle grade audience, boy or girl, but especially to those that like robotics (or those whose closets are nightmares and whose homework is frayed). As an added bonus, Celia's experience growing up with Chinese father is described in quite a bit of detail, but it never felt in the least little bit as if Chang were forcing this part of Celia's life uncomfortably into the story.
(read for the Cybils).
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