Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Rabbit & Robot and Ribbit by Cece Bell

Image from
Hi there! Amy here, ready to take a look at Cece Bell’s Rabbit & Robot and Ribbit, the long awaited sequel to the 2013 Geisel Honor book, Rabbit and Robot: The Sleepover.

This hilarious book, aimed at more confident first and second grade readers, focuses on the universal difficulty of sharing your bestie with a new friend. Rabbit makes a surprise visit to Robot, only to discover Robot’s new frog friend Ribbit is already there. Through a game of checkers, an episode of Cowboy Jack Rabbit, and a rousing game of make believe, Rabbit resists all attempts to become friends with Ribbit. But when Robot’s “Emotion Decoder” overheats, Rabbit and Ribbit work together to rescue their friend.

From cover to cover, there’s much to appreciate in this humorous book. Actually, let’s start with the cover and title. Together they introduce all three characters with visual clues to their relationships. This establishes story context, allowing readers to open the book confidently. The story is divided into four chapters (all titled “Ribbit”), each one leaving the reader dangling on a cliff hanger creating a wonderful page turning dynamic.

Word repetition is quite strong as well. New concepts and words are introduced slowly, supported by helpful visual context clues and strong repetition. The word “Engrossed” is used frequently throughout. It’s probably an unfamiliar word for most new readers, however, Bell has chosen it well. Not only is it phonetic (en-grossed), but it also becomes the focus of a repeated pun. It’s easy to imagine the joy and satisfaction of a young reader learning a new word and then being able to understand how it’s used in humorous wordplay.

There’s plenty of white space to keep the focus on the text, with sentence lengths alternating between short and long. The punctuation is clear and intentional. As befits a more confident emerging reader audience ellipses, quotation marks, and dashes are included. Italics are used sparingly, but quite effectively to show emphasis.

Also, there’s a robot in the title and on the cover. That gives the book about 500 kid appeal points, at least with the kids at my library.

There are also a few possible concerns when looking at this book through a Geisel criteria lens. One possible challenge for new readers could be Ribbit’s translated jokes. Robot uses his “Built-in Frog Glossary” to print the jokes onto long strips of paper. The text of the joke, only seen in the illustration, flips sideways and upside down, and even crosses the gutter. Additionally, some words are incomplete as a sentence disappears into a loop.
Image from Rabbit & Robot and Ribbit by Cece Bell (photo by Amy Seto Forrester)

A similar problem arrives later in the story when Robot prints out single word emotions using his “Emotion Decoder.” These words also change direction from the standard left to right and are only seen in the illustration. These are fabulous words, but they are rather difficult without intentional repetition. One could argue that a reader could enjoy the story without these two sets of text, but is the story less satisfying without them?

Image from Rabbit & Robot and Ribbit by Cece Bell (photo by Amy Seto Forrester)

Image from Rabbit & Robot and Ribbit
by Cece Bell (photo by Amy Seto Forrester)
There is the occasional awkward line break, such as the page to the right. It’s regrettable that the line breaks interrupt the sentences in such unnatural, illogical places.

I’ve noticed that some new readers are easily tripped up by words that only differ by a letter or two.I love the alliteration of Rabbit, Robot, and Ribbit, but I wonder if visually the words look too similar. However, this book is definitely for a more confident emerging reader, so perhaps this won’t matter.

All in all, I feel that this title is a strong contender. The subject matter, format, and length are well-suited to a second grade reading level, the upper range of the Geisel criteria. The overall package, especially the humorous illustrations, is attractive and enticing. Although there are some concerns, I’d really like to see how kids interact with this book. Have you read it with kids? Have they found it to be a successful, satisfying reading experience?

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