March 25, 2021


Breathe Deep, Little Sheep: A Calm-Down Book for Kids. By Jessica Lee. Illustrated by Lucia Wilkinson. Andrews McMeel. $17.99.

Diary of an 8-Bit Warrior Graphic Novel: An OP Alliance. By “Cube Kid” (Erik Gunnar Taylor). Story adapted by Pirate Sourcil. Illustrated by Jez. Colored by Odone. Andrews McMeel. $8.99.

     Children are famously resilient, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has tested them just as much as it has tested adults. And just like their parents and other grown-ups, kids can definitely use some coping strategies to handle the widespread disruptions to their home, school and social lives. For the youngest children of all, Jessica Lee offers a super-basic picture book called Breathe Deep, Little Sheep, designed to show some very simple relaxation techniques and to encourage parents and other adults – whom she addresses on the book’s final page – to take matters further by reinforcing and expanding upon the book’s lessons and suggestions. Thanks to the warm, gentle illustrative art of Lucia Wilkinson, Breathe Deep, Little Sheep is a relaxing book from the start. It starts with visualization, with a picture of a puppy cowering beneath a bed as a storm rages outside: “Don’t be nervous, little pup,/ the storm will soon be over.” And then, on the next page: “Close your eyes and picture this:/ a field of flowers and clover.” And here Wilkinson shows the puppy happily romping outdoors on a bright and pleasant day, presumably by imagining just such a scene. Each four-page sequence (a two-page spread to lay out the negative feelings and another to counteract them) proceeds similarly. “It’s tempting when you’re anxious/ to curl up tight and hide,” writes Lee, and Wilkinson shows a hedgehog curled almost entirely into a ball. Then: “But open up and use your words./ Say how you feel inside!” And the little hedgehog is seen talking to a bigger, grown-up hedgehog, which looks on with empathy and understanding. The animals shown throughout this short book are uniformly cute; among them are a penguin, bunny, puffer fish, squirrel, and of course the little sheep of the title. All the drawings are expansive and sweet in their simplicity, whether showing an undersea scene, a springtime meadow, or a snowy glade with frozen pond. The text is sometimes on the tortured side, with Lee determined to put ideas across even at the expense of clear writing: “When a problem feels enormous/ and you don’t know what to do,/ just break it into little steps:/ one hop, two hops, go you!” Still, everything here is so well-meaning that adult readers will surely appreciate it, and the recommendations on the final page have some genuine helpfulness to them. For instance, instead of simply saying that kids should practice “mindful, gentle breathing,” Lee suggests how to do that – by holding up a pinwheel and making it spin slowly by exhaling deeply and gradually. Breathe Deep, Little Sheep will not make a significant dent in the difficulties of life during the pandemic, but it will help adults help kids take some small initial steps toward a greater sense of calm and equanimity.

     Adventure and excitement rather than anything calming are the point of the unofficial Minecraft-based adventure novels written by the fan who calls himself “Cube Kid.” The starting point for those adventures is now the beginning of its own series – of graphic novels based on what “Cube Kid” has written, as adapted by three other Minecraft fans. The “OP Alliance” part of the graphic novel’s title is not formally explained, but “OP” can refer to “Original Poster” or “Overpowered” in online gaming, and could just as well mean “Opposites,” since the whole point of the book is the way opposite-seeming characters unite as friends and companions instead of following societal and parental expectations by fighting each other and then settling into the dull drudgery of expectations of everyday life. The protagonists here – shown as typical Minecraft characters in the expected squared-off world of the game – are Runt, who does not want to be a timid carrot farmer like everyone else in his village, and dreams of becoming a warrior; and Blurp, who does not want to be a villager-eating monstrosity of a zombie like everyone else in his village, and dreams of becoming, well, a villager. The two strike up an unlikely friendship when both venture beyond the bounds of their respective home areas and support each other in modest adventures – before Runt realizes that Blurp is a zombie (but by the time he does find out, it’s ok, since by then the bonds of camaraderie are stronger than those of, you know, zombies eating people and people destroying zombies and all that). Another team member is a wolf named Mobslayer, tamed by Runt through the simple expedient of being given a single bone. And then, later in the book, the team is joined by a true warrior – but a timid one, named Maggie, with something to prove and considerable self-doubt. This (+++) book is simply plotted, with the usual kind of “introduction to ongoing adventures” elements that are common in first-of-a-series novels, whether graphic or not. And it is strictly for Minecraft fans: there is nothing sufficiently unusual in it to attract non-fans to the book (or, for that matter, to Minecraft itself). Still, those who know the “Cube Kid” books and those who do not know them but enjoy the idea of seeing some Minecraft elements in graphic-novel form will have a good time with this first entry in a planned series of visual adaptations of the “Cube Kid” version of Minecraft-based stories.


Mahler: Das Klagende Lied. Brigitte Poschner-Klebel, soprano; Marjana Lipovšek, mezzo-soprano; David Rendall, tenor; Manfred Hemm, baritone; Wiener Singakademie and ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Gielen. Orfeo. $18.99.

Respighi: Concerto all’antica; Antiche danze e arie per liuto, Suites 1-3. Davide Alogna, violin; Chamber Orchestra of New York conducted by Salvatore Di Vittorio. Naxos. $11.99.

Scriabin: Piano Sonata No. 1; Rachmaninoff: Piano Sonata No. 1; Prelude in F. Zixiang Wang, piano. Blue Griffin Recording. $15.99.

Density 2036: Parts I-V. Claire Chase, flute. Corbett vs. Dempsey Records. $30 (4 CDs).

     Amazingly, by the time Gustav Mahler was 18 years old, he had already internalized a great deal of the musical thinking and planning – and grandiosity – that would mark his later and far more mature work. That is the remarkable conclusion from every opportunity to hear Das Klagende Lied, a huge cantata/symphony (similar in that blended sense, to a degree, to the much later “Symphony of a Thousand”) that in its original version called for multiple orchestras and no fewer than 11 solo voices in addition to a chorus. No one performs that original version nowadays, which is understandable but something of a shame, since hearing the exact way Mahler wanted Das Klagende Lied to sound when he wrote it from 1878 to 1880 would be a remarkable musical experience, and one through which listeners would gain considerable insight into the composer’s later work. But at least Das Klagende Lied gets some performances from time to time, generally in the form in which it is heard on a new Orfeo recording featuring four fine soloists, an equally fine chorus, and a top orchestra, all conducted by the late Michael Gielen. Seeking at least partial performances early in his career, Mahler abandoned the first of the work’s three parts and made significant changes – that is, simplifications – in the second and third. Gielen, like most conductors willing to try to surmount what is still an extremely complex and difficult work, offers the first part in its original form and the other two in their revised versions. This is a new release, but not a new performance: it dates to 1990, but in no respect feels or sounds dated – Gielen, who died in 2019, was clearly in his prime when he conducted this material. Soloists, chorus and orchestra are all excellent, and Gielen does an absolutely first-rate job of building musical tension during the progress of the rather lurid fairy-tale story that Mahler set (using words that he wrote himself: one of many ways in which Das Klagende Lied shows that Mahler was already, well, Mahler). The material, drawn from two separate fairy-tale collections, is of a type common in such stories: two brothers vie for the hand of the same noble woman, the evil older one kills the good younger one, and eventually a flute made from a bone of the victim reveals the truth of the fratricide. In Mahler’s hands, though, this is not a crime-and-punishment story, and while the tale is sad enough (Klagende is “lamentation”), Mahler does not imbue it with the sort of over-the-top emotionalism of which he was surely already capable. Instead, he turns it into a vast canvas exploring themes of natural beauty vs. human depravity, woodland purity vs. courtly arrogance. The musical themes are spun out at length, and there is some narrative repetition (which is why the first and longest part of the work could be omitted in early performances: what happens in it is clear from what happens in the other two sections). The vast canvas on which Mahler paints his musical pictures – not the story the words tell – is the main point and primary attraction of Das Klagende Lied, and Gielen explores the scene-setting thoroughly, knowledgeably and to very fine effect. The sprawling work is most notable for the ways in which it points to Mahler’s later music (he even quoted from it directly in subsequent pieces), but under Gielen’s hands, it is also a worthy piece in its own right, and one that Mahler aficionados will very much enjoy hearing.

     Like Mahler’s early work, a Respighi concerto that has not been recorded before turns out to point the way clearly to directions in which the composer would later go. Concerto all’antica, for violin and orchestra, dates to 1908, when the composer was not yet 30, and it shows him already absorbing the themes and stylistic niceties of much earlier music and making them his own through clever combinations and skillful orchestration. Indeed, the concerto is so tuneful that it is genuinely surprising that the Naxos CD featuring Davide Alogna and the Chamber Orchestra of New York under Salvatore Di Vittorio is its world-première recording. The work proceeds with elegance in a smooth and well-balanced three-movement structure whose finale, in particular, pays direct homage to the pre-Classical era. And this disc shows quite plainly how pervasive the “old music” elements of the concerto pervaded Respighi’s later work, since the CD also includes the three suites of Antiche danze e arie per liuto (“Ancient dances and airs for lute”) that Respighi wrote between 1917 and 1931. These highly effective suites, based on music from the 16th and 17th centuries, sound well-balanced and thoroughly convincing in the performances here, their dancelike elements brought forth effectively and the niceties of Respighi’s very-well-thought-out orchestration giving the suites considerable character. The CD places the third suite (1931) between the first (1917) and second (1923), which may be chronologically inaccurate but which produces a very welcome contrast in sound, since the first and second suites are for full orchestra and the third is only for a string ensemble (and was originally just for string quartet). The third suite is also the most introspective of the three, so placing it between the first and second results in a mood change after the first suite, into greater seriousness, and then another change after the third, to a brighter conclusion. The orchestral playing in all the suites is top-notch, with the attentiveness to the suites’ dance forms and strong rhythms very impressive and the works’ melding of “ancient” and 20th-century elements conveyed with strength, solidity and conviction.

     Composers’ earlier works can sometimes be as interesting in showing the directions in which they did not go as in providing youthful examples of how their creators later developed. Thus, Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 1 (actually the third he composed, but the first one that survives as a full-scale multi-movement piece) is built around a deeply sad Adagio and concluding Funèbre, in both of which the composer laments the loss of his performance ability because of what doctors had told him was permanent damage to his right hand (caused by overuse in practicing). The faster first and third movements do little to relieve the sense of despair, the first being melancholy and turbulent, the third harsh, angry and unresolved at its conclusion. The intensity of the work comes through quite poignantly in a new performance by Zixiang Wang on the Blue Griffin Recording label. Wang not only has technique to spare but also possesses an unerring sense of how to bring out the music’s anger and anguish without making it sound so over-the-top as to be melodramatic. Yet the passion and bleakness of this sonata did not portend future works of the same type from Scriabin: he actually recovered the use of his right hand, although he did not return to the virtuoso-performance circuit, and his later sonatas explore territory that is quite different from that in his first. Rachmaninoff’s Piano Sonata No. 1 is also tied at most loosely to his later work. Its sprawl and large scope – its three movements last significantly longer than the four used by Scriabin – do look ahead to Rachmaninoff’s later music, as does the frequent use of the Dies irae motif; and the conclusion of the sonata is replete with pounding chords that are recognizable as a kind of Rachmaninoff compositional signature. But the work is otherwise something of a dead end in the composer’s oeuvre. Its three movements were going to represent the three main characters from Goethe’s Faust: the title character, Gretchen, and Mephistopheles. The sonata retains some elements of that original program, which closely parallels that of Liszt’s Faust Symphony, but Rachmaninoff abandoned the structure in favor of something non-programmatic. The first and third movements, both in D minor, are drawn-out and very close to the same length, while the central Lento in F is filled with extended melodic lines that contrast strongly with a finale that, unlike later Rachmaninoff, is almost devoid of significant themes. The sonata as a whole is somewhat diffuse and even self-indulgent in its exploitation of the extremes of pianistic capability – in terms of the instrument itself, not just the performer. Here as in the Scriabin, Wang handles the virtuosic elements with aplomb, but he is less successful in trying to wrest some coherence and overall sensibility from the Rachmaninoff than from the Scriabin. The Rachmaninoff is a difficult piece both to play and to hear, and certainly Wang’s handling of it shows considerable skill and a thoughtful approach to the music. But as a whole, his reading is less convincing than is his handling of Scriabin’s sonata. As an encore, Wang offers an even earlier Rachmaninoff work, and a much rarer one to hear: the solo-piano version of the Prelude in F, which is much better known in its cello-and-piano version (Op. 2, No. 1). Calm and borderline sweet, this 1891 version of the prelude, written when the composer was 18, sounds little like mature Rachmaninoff. But it makes an effective contrast with the huge Sonata No. 1, while also letting listeners hear the road not traveled in the composer’s later work.

     It is possible to admire early works, even respect them, without necessarily liking them very much, and that will likely be the situation in which many listeners find themselves if they happen upon the Density 2036 project being created under the auspices of flautist Claire Chase. It is hard to imagine a more ambitious musical project than this one: it is intended as a 23-year series of commissions of flute music of all types, started in 2013 and intended to be completed on the 100th anniversary of the first version of Edgard Varèse’s Density 21.5. On the basis of the music created in the early years of the project, it is all very self-referential and quite contemporary in its use of electronics, tuned “found objects” such as bottles and glasses, instruments such as the contrabass flute and ondes Martenot, vocal elements (both intelligible and electronically altered), and much more. Corbett vs. Dempsey Records, whose name is also right in tune with the self-conscious modernity and “off-beatness” of Density 2036, has now released a four-CD set of the first five parts of Chase’s project (2013-2017). The seminal (or at least inspirational) Varèse work appears on the first disc, although at the end rather than the beginning. Other composers with works on the CD are Marcos Balter, Mario Diaz de Leon, Felipe Lara, George Lewis, and Du Yun. The second CD includes material by Dai Fujikura, Francesca Verunelli, Nathan Davis, Jason Eckhardt, and Pauline Oliveros. The third disc has works by Suzanne Farrin, Tyshawn Sorey, Vijay Iyer, Pauchi Sasaki, and Richard Beaudoin. The fourth is entirely devoted to a multi-part Balter piece called “Pan, for speaking/singing flutist and large ensemble.” With the exception of Varèse (born in 1883), Lewis (1952), and Oliveros (1932), all the composers were born in the 1970s or 1980s, and all the music partakes of the interests, expectations and quirks common to works created by musicians of their era. The flute, although pervasively present, is something of an afterthought for many of the composers, who have little interest in the instrument’s sound on its own but are determined to expand it (if not necessarily enhance it) through electronics, percussion, vocals and more. Indeed, the standard Varèse-style flute is not particularly common in these works, whose creators favor the amplified flute, bass flute (in one piece, six of them), contrabass flute, glissando flute and other variations; and who in several cases use flute players as speakers or vocalists as well. The proudly experimental nature of the music is more self-proclaimed than readily apparent: in truth, there is not much in these pieces that listeners interested in contemporary works will have failed to encounter elsewhere. What gives Density 2036 a (+++) rating – for those whose tastes run strongly to the avant-garde – is the ambitious nature of the project and Chase’s determination to see it through to the end. She will be 58 at the project’s end, so she has a strong likelihood of making it through the whole thing and not even needing to deem it her life’s work – she can go on to other forms of creativity if she so desires. Whether Density 2036 will end up as a musical legacy of which Chase can be proud, or just an over-extended compilation of works whose value lies in their inclusion in the project rather than in any form of musical or artistic communication with an audience, is at this point an unanswerable question. It is simply too early to say.


Liszt: Grande Paraphrase de la Marche de Giuseppe Donizetti; Réminiscences de Lucia di Lammermoor; Introduction et Polonaise de l’opéra I Puritani de Bellini; Erlkönig (after Schubert); Magyar Dalok (Hungarian Melodies); Réminiscences de Norma de Bellini; Chopin: Mazurka in B minor, Op. 33, No. 4; Weber: Invitation to the Dance. Zeynep Ucbasaran, piano. Divine Art. $18.99.

BAMA: Alabama String Quartets. Amernet String Quartet (Misha Vitenson and Franz Felkl, violins; Michael Klotz, viola; Jason Calloway, cello). MSR Classics. $19.95 (2 CDs).

     Why not use geography as the unifying element of a recital, concert or recording? Performers and producers are always looking for ways to make disparate music seem related, to give a theme of some sort to a particular performance, so why not pick a geographical relationship among the works being played as a way to draw the audience into a totality that might otherwise seem completely scattershot? Well, the answer is that the effectiveness of the geographical connection ultimately depends both on the music played and on the extent to which the geography is truly germane to the performance. In the case of a new Divine Art recording featuring a mostly-Liszt recital by Zeynep Ucbasaran – and not a particularly new recital, since it was recorded in 2012 after broadcasts in 2011 – the geographical tie-in is tenuous at best. The works heard on this disc were among those performed by Liszt during a month-long visit to Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 1847, where the great composer/pianist played two concerts in the Sultan’s palace and gave a number of performances elsewhere. But aside from the fact that this means all the works here date to 1847 or earlier, there is little to unite the material by focusing on the venue where Liszt performed these pieces. On the other hand, the Liszt/Istanbul connection surely seemed more aptly serious to Ucbasaran and Divine Art than the more-accurate description of this material, which would be something along the lines of “Wretched Excess That Sounds Great.” These are almost all pieces designed to showcase (and show off) pianistic prowess, not to communicate any particular level of emotional involvement, much less intensity, to an audience. Thus, Grande Paraphrase de la Marche de Giuseppe Donizetti is so over-the-top as to be almost humorous. Réminiscences de Lucia di Lammermoor piles complexity on complexity in a display of showmanship that surely delighted Liszt’s audiences – and should delight Ucbasaran’s – but that, objectively speaking, does considerable violence to the underlying music. Similarly, the two Bellini-based pieces, while filled with fireworks and requiring substantial pianistic élan, have almost nothing to do with the warm bel canto material on which they are (rather loosely) based. And Liszt’s handling of Weber’s Invitation to the Dance turns this pleasant and rather sweet piece into a tour de force that is anything but danceable – even though it is very listenable indeed. Liszt is not quite so extreme in his handling of a Chopin Mazurka and Schubert’s Erlkönig, but neither of those works comes off as well in Liszt’s version as they do in the originals. However, there is one piece in Ucbasaran’s recital that does show a somewhat less extreme Liszt: Magyar Dalok, an effective melodic display in which the pianistic requirements are at the service of an understanding of the musical material. Playing this recital must have been exhausting, for Ucbasaran if not necessarily for Liszt; listening to it, however, is mostly simply fun, and even rather thrilling from time to time. The CD is superficial pretty much from start to finish, but then so – apparently – was Liszt’s sojourn in Constantinople in 1847. Certainly the trip cemented and, if anything, added to Liszt’s already formidable reputation as a performer. Somewhat ironically, 1847 ended up being Liszt’s final year as a virtuoso performer, as the European revolutions of 1848 upended his career along with so much else.

     The geographical connection is more integral to the music in a two-CD release from MSR Classics that features 15 chamber works commissioned by or connected to the Birmingham Art Music Alliance (hence the overall title of the release, BAMA – which, of course, is also shorthand for the state of Alabama). Whether or not the 13 composers here are household names in Alabama itself, they will likely be thoroughly unfamiliar to listeners in general, even ones interested in contemporary quartet music. The works are uniformly well-made without ever being especially distinctive in approach. Bird Quartet by Cynthia Miller (born 1950) is suitably evocative and imitative. String Quartet No. 2 by Brian Moon (born 1975) consists of a mere five minutes of rather obsessional rhythm. Twine ’Mid the Ringlets by Monroe Golden (born 1959) atonally contrasts the extremes of the strings’ range. Ascension for String Quartet by Lawren Brianna Ware (born 1994) dwells at some length in the lower registers. The first movement from String Quartet No. 4 by Matthew Scott Phillips (born1977) is more evocative, emotive and expressive than most of the other works offered here. String Quartet (2003) by Andrew Raffo Dewar (born 1975) includes open-string and harmonic effects in the instruments’ higher and lower ranges. Tempus Fugit by Tom Reiner (born 1969) moves with intensity, although not toward any certain destination. Quartet for Strings by Mark Lackey (born 1966) is a rather well-proportioned three-movement piece that focuses as much on individual instruments as on ensemble playing, and has some genuine bounce in its finale. String Quartet No. 1 by Michael Coleman (born 1955) moves along smartly and covers a fair amount of ground, both emotionally and in terms of performance, in its single seven-and-a-half-minute movement. Follows from Hummingbird by Holland Hopson (born 1971) is mostly concerned with creating unusual string sounds and with contrasting abundant glissandi with individual notes. Ketiga by Tom Reiner (born 1969) features a somewhat dancelike first movement, a surprisingly lyrical second, and a strongly accented if rather inconclusive finale. Lines and Curves, a second work by Moon, jumps about hither and thither to somewhat humorous effect. String Quartet, a second offering from Golden, is filled with harmonics and a constant feeling of stop-and-start pacing. Imagery: Thomas Hardy on Death by Chris Steele (born 1980) uses three very short movements (less than two minutes apiece) in surprisingly expressive ways, sounding like a throwback harmonically but connecting emotionally to fine effect. And String Quartet No. 1, “Vespers,” by Joel Scott Davis (born 1982), also a three-movement piece and at 23 minutes by far the longest work in this release, extracts some sonic special effects from the strings but never quite makes the aural connection between those sounds and movements supposedly relating to “proclamations,” “benedictions” and “jubilations.” The Amernet String Quartet plays all the music very well indeed, making the strongest possible case for all these works. And most of the pieces show structural solidity and considerable mastery of the string-quartet form. Nevertheless, this (+++) release is unlikely to reach out beyond a small core audience – one interested not only in contemporary string-quartet writing but also in the specific ways in which such writing is produced and/or reflected in the state of Alabama. The CDs may be most useful in the academic sphere – for demonstrating to potential conservatory students that Alabama has a vibrant contemporary-classical-music life.

March 18, 2021


Eagerly Awaiting Your Irrational Response: A “Dilbert” Book. By Scott Adams. Andrews McMeel. $14.99.

Bots and Bods: How Robots and Humans Work, from the Inside Out. By John Andrews. Andrews McMeel. $12.99.

     Cartoons are an exceptionally versatile form of communication, usable for the lightest amusement as well as for some rather heavy educational purposes. Adults and young readers have different expectations of the medium, and cartoonists – or authors using cartoons for communicative purposes – tend to play to what the different audiences will expect. Scott Adams is particularly adept at this in his long-running Dilbert comic strip, which has long since standardized the three-panel (rather than four-panel) form and a kind of snarky workplace humor that will be instantly familiar to anyone who has ever worked at a big corporation or imagined what that sort of work must be like. Even at a time when pandemic restrictions have led many corporations to reduce or eliminate in-office work for large numbers of people, Dilbert cartoons ring true, and they will likely remind office workers of the things they do not miss about the workplace. Recently, Adams has focused on a comparatively small cast of characters, gradually moving away from his earlier tendency to bring in various nonhumans (dinosaurs, Ratbert, etc.) and allowing the foibles of exaggerated-but-familiar humans to carry his strip (although Dogbert and Catbert still have distinctive roles). The 48th Dilbert collection, Eagerly Awaiting Your Irrational Response, offers plenty of continuity of theme and characters even as Adams, as usual, jumps from topic to topic with no significant sense of rhyme or reason. For example, Dilbert visits a doctor because he has been feeling loyal to the company “and that makes me work extra hard for no extra money,” so he wants a pill to stop him from working so hard. The doctor explains, “They all do that if you take enough of them.” The Pointy-Haired Boss refuses to hire someone named Carl because the company already has a Carl, and having two would confuse matters – and when the candidate tries to discuss his skills, the PHB says, “People with better names have skills, too.” Elsewhere, the PHB asks Dilbert if he sent the PHB his project update; Dilbert asks if he planned to read it; the PHB says no; and Dilbert says in that case, he certainly did send it. So the PHB walks away thinking, “Half of my job is imaginary.” As for Dogbert’s role in the latest Dilbert book, it largely involves stirring up non-work-related and distinctly outré matters, for instance by telling Dilbert that he is a simulation and Dogbert himself is “an avatar used by your creator to interact with your world.” Dilbert refuses to believe that, and Dogbert says, “Yep. That’s how I made you.” And Dilbert himself comes up with an algorithm that indicates “we are heading toward a parody inversion point,” which means “reality becomes so absurd that it is indistinguishable from parody.” Dilbert readers will likely nod vigorously at that – probably responding to a command from whatever avatars they are interacting with these days.

     Cartoons tend to be more straightforward and illustrative in books for younger readers – and the cartoons, when well-used, can do a lot to make difficult and complex topics considerably more approachable and comprehensible. That is the case with the many illustrations in John Andrews’ Bots and Bods, an interestingly informative look at the parallels and divergences between human beings and robots. Andrews divides the book into four sections called “Body Basics,” “Get Moving,” “Seeing and Sensing,” and “Thinking and Feeling,” and within each section presents multiple, very short, cartoon-illustrated explanations of topics of all sorts. When it comes to “Muscles and Motors,” for example, Andrews explains that humans have more than 600 muscles to control movements, while robots “move by using motors and other mechanical devices.” Facing-page illustrations show a boy’s elbow joint, tendon, biceps and triceps – and the comparable elbow, actuator and computer control used by a robot for the same purposes. That cartoon deliberately shows a human-like robot, but Andrews notes throughout the book that many, many robots do not resemble humans at all. For example, “Bot Travel” explains that “they might not look like robots to you, but self-driving cars are probably the most sophisticated machines you might come across in everyday life.” After discussing how such vehicles work, though, Andrews points out that they raise a host of questions, such as, in case of an accident, “Who takes the blame if there’s no driver?” And he notes that questions like this one “really haven’t been solved yet.” On the other hand, some elements of robot perception have been solved, and sometimes in ways that closely parallel the way human bodies solve them. Thus, under “Eyes and Vision,” Andrews offers a boxed subsection called “From Light to Sight” that shows parallel perceptions of a carrot by a human and a robot. “Light is reflected from the carrot,” he explains, and “is detected by the eye, or the robot camera, and turned into electronic signals.” The cartoon deliberately shows these procedures looking very similar – and also indicates the similarity when “the signals travel to the brain, or the robot computer, to be understood.” Elsewhere, Andrews explains – and shows – ways in which robots can be labor-saving devices, not only in factories but also around the home, for instance by doing cleaning tasks and mowing the lawn. And he tells about ways in which robots can do some tasks better than humans can – for example, in surgery, when a doctor can tell a surgical robot where stitches need to go and leave it up to the robot to place them with greater precision than human hands can manage. Bots and Bods is a fascinating primer about robot design and capability, with some indications about future developments involving everything from the Internet (where “botnets” already exist) to space exploration. And a big part of what makes the book successful is the way Andrews integrates illustrative cartoons into his narrative, making it easier for young readers to follow the human-to-robot similarities and contrasts than would be possible using words alone.