cover image The Robot King

The Robot King

Brian Selznick. HarperCollins, $13.95 (80pp) ISBN 978-0-06-024493-4

From its opening in a moonlit cemetery, where a sister and brother are gathering stones, bits of glass and twigs near their mother's grave, this mannered fantasy is more portentous than rewarding. Out of the items they find, Lucy creates mechanical toys in the attic. There she builds the Robot King, and places their late mother's music box inside of it as a ""heart."" When the music box suddenly starts playing, the robot comes alive, slips off the table and shatters its knees, which are fashioned from china plates. These porcelain bits are enchanted: whatever machine they fall on (a phone, lamp, radio) takes to the air. Their magic enables the Robot King to fly out the attic window one night; Lucy and her mute brother, Ezra, search for him by following a path of flying machines. They travel to a remote cottage, an abandoned fairground and other suggestive settings, where they have odd adventures-it may escape the target audience that these fragmentary episodes bear some relation to the stories Lucy is said to have told to Ezra about their mother. Selznick (The Houdini Box) appears to be aiming for profundity, but this odd tale feels flat. Ages 8-up. (Sept.)