Robots in the rain

posted in: Chris Riddell | 11
Photo: laffy4k

Autumn has arrived with a vengeance in our part of the world. Jumping in puddles is fun, but we’ve had a few days where venturing outside has been the last thing we wanted to do.

Still, when you’re stuck indoors it can be extra cozy and extra inviting for an additional story or two on the sofa. And so it was we picked up Wendel’s Workshop by Chris Riddell from our most recent library pile.

Wendel is an inventor. He’s creative and cute but he doesn’t cut it when it comes to tidying up, so he hits on the solution of creating a robot to keep his workshop in order. The prototype, Clunk, doesn’t work very well; clothes get folded into knots and teacups are cleared up into the sock drawer. Before long, this first robot is consigned to the scrap heap.


Wendelbot is the inventor’s second attempt at a machine to help him keep the workshop clean. Unfortunately the Wendelbot seems to suffer from some cross wiring and his idea of tidying up is yet more destructive. Even Wendel himself is seen as something which needs tidying up and after being captured by his creation, Wendel is thrown out as rubbish.

Clunk and Wendel hear the continued sounds of destruction in the workshop. They join forces and use what is around them – piles of previously discarded junk – to create a new army of robots with which to face the Wendelbot. When the two sides eventually meet there are scenes of chaos as the Wendelbot persists in tidying whilst Wendel, Clunk and their entourage attempt to un-tidy at the same rate. This frenzied activity causes the Wendelbot to overheat and explode, creating the biggest mess yet.

Faced with a huge amount of tidying up Wendel realises that things don’t need to be tidied to perfection – things can be “good enough”.

Not everything worked perfectly… but Wendel didn’t mind. He just smiled, patch this, mended that and made adjustments here and there.

But there was one thing he didn’t do…

Wendel NEVER threw anything on the scrapheap again.

A modern take on “make do and mend”, Riddell tells a story that we all need to hear and heed. The message could be preachy, but instead is full of humour and good will. The illustrations are deliciously detailed, down to the last screw.

As someone who herself practises the “good enough” method when it comes to tidying up (with a husband who’d prefer something a little more… shall we say rigorous in its approach) this book had huge appeal to me. M and J loved the idea of inventing and thought the robots were great fun. We’ve giggled a-plenty on the sofa with this book in our laps and the rain pouring down outside.

If you like the illustrations of Harry Horse (who was also a political cartoonist, just as Riddell is) I think you’ll really love those in Wendel’s Workshop – we certainly pulled out our copies of Little Rabbit Runaway and A Friend for Little Bear where piles of junk are great fun to pour over in the search for hidden details, just as in Wendel’s Workshop.

And thus it was, one rainy afternoon, our kitchen was transformed into a robot workshop of our own, replete with recycling: all the usual suspects – empty bottles, bottle tops, cardboard tubes, boxes, molded plastic trays and any other bits and bobs the girls could find plus a roll of duck tape (I’m yet to try hot glue, although I imagine it might be the perfect thing to use for this project – any tips gratefully received!) to stick things together.

I pretty much left the girls to it, just as they wanted it, my only input being to pre-tear some strips of tape for them. A short while later several robots appeared from the workshop…

… capable, in M’s words of “doing anything”. Super robots indeed!

A very simple yet enjoyable activity spurred on by a book that the girls would love to get their own copy of.

Wendel’s Workshop: *** (3 stars)

Whilst manufacturing robots the girls listened to:

  • The 3 R’s by Jack Johnson
  • Tidy Up Tidy Up by The Barcelona Pavilion
  • When I’m Cleaning Windows by George Formby

  • If When we manage to get our own copy of this book some other activities that we might try out include:

  • Having another go at making our own robot costumes
  • Making robot pictures out of precut shapes like this from Activity Village
  • Turning an empty crisp bag into a robotFrugal Family Fun Blog has all the details and a very lovely photo of a robot being cuddled.
  • And if we’re feeling really adventurous there’s this great project from Filth Wizardry – a robot that draws!

  • We hadn’t previously read any books written or illustrated by Chris Riddell (although I’ve often enjoyed his political cartoons in the Sunday newspaper). What book of his should we read next?

    11 Responses

    1. sandhya

      We loved the Ottoline Series by Chris Riddell- Ottoline and the yellow cat, Ottoline at school and Ottoline at sea. Wonderful.
      We have a festival of lights which comes in late Oct-early Nov called Diwali. The dates shilft as our festivals follow the lunar calendar. At this time, we light lamps all over the house, on the terrace, porch, etc., as well as hang a paper lantern outside the door. As children, we would make a bamboo frame for it, and stick coloured paper on it, decorating it with silver /golden paper. This excercise required a collossal amount of glue, and we would make this at home. We mixed wheat flour with water till it had a runny consistency, and whe goo was cooked till it thickened a bit, and was sticky. This could be used even when cool, though we had to keepit covered lest it dried up on the top. Non-toxic, edible glue, used by kids of all ages without fear of what would happen if they injested it!

    2. Bernadette

      Would you believe that Chris Riddell has actually visited a school in Cairo that I worked for?! His brother (a teacher) is a dear, dear friend of mine and the walls of his house are covered with Chris’ illustrations. Now I’m going to have to check my friend’s shelf for this one!!

    3. Zoe

      Hi Sandhya,
      Yes, I think might try Ottoline soon – am I right in thinking they’re aimed at slightly older kids?
      The glue sounds great – would you (your mum) cook it on the hob in a pan to thicken it up?
      Diwali is widely celebrated here too – in fact I just saw a poster yesterday for a city council sponsored event at the end of the month and I thought M might enjoy going to it, especially after the success of our “trip” to India.

    4. Zoe

      Wow Bernadette, that is very cool! Yes, do see if you can track down a copy to borrow – it’s a great book.

    5. sandhya

      You’re right about Ottoline. I think it’s for 8+. A enjoyed the books.
      Yes, the glue would be cooked on a hob in a pan. In fact if it thickens too much, just add water- and keep stirring so that it doesn’t burn, and to prevent lumps.
      Pardon the many typos in my previous comment!

    6. Choxbox

      Was going to mention Ottoline too! Love love love Riddell’s illustrations!

      One time Honda’s ASIMO was being exhibited at the Science Museum, when my older one was about 4. She totally loved it when the robot showed some cool dance steps 🙂 Wish they’d have a permanent robot stationed in all science museums.

      And wowing at the robot craft, sounds fun!

    7. Judi

      We could use a rainy day around here! Everything is so dry.

      I wrote this one down and hope to find it at our library! My kids will love it! 🙂

    8. Zoe

      Hi Judi, Janelle, it’s definitely a book with lots of boy appeal (although my two girls also love it).

    9. Judi

      Finally this book became available at our library (I had it on hold) and we read it tonight! My boys are hoping to create their own robot tomorrow!

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