Maya and the Robot

by Eve L Ewing (Author) Christine Almeda (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 4th − 5th Grade

From award-winning author Eve L. Ewing comes an illustrated middle-grade novel about a forgotten homemade robot who comes to life just when aspiring fifth-grade scientist Maya needs a friend -- and a science fair project.

Maya's nervous about fifth grade. She tries to keep calm by reminding herself she knows what to expect. But then she learns that this year will be different from the last. For the first time since kindergarten, her best friends Jada and MJ are placed in a different class without her, and introverted Maya has trouble making new friends. She tries to put on a brave face since they are in fifth grade now, but Maya is nervous! Just when too much seems to change, she finds a robot named Ralph in the back of Mr. Mac's convenience store closet. Once she uses her science skills to get him up and running, a new world of connection opens up as Ralph becomes a family member, and Maya begins to step into her power.

In this touching novel, Eve L. Ewing melds together a story about community, adapting to change, and the magic of ingenuity that reminds young readers that they can always turn to their own curiosity when feeling lost.

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School Library Journal

Starred Review

Gr 3-7-Maya, who is Black, can't wait to start fifth grade; she loves school and learning, and spending time with her friends. But everything shifts when she finds out besties MJ and Jada won't be in strict Ms. Rodriguez's class with her. They were transferred to Ms. Montgomery's, the super cool teacher who plays bass guitar and even does science experiments in her classroom. Things only get worse from there; Maya is in class with her bully, and feels too intimidated to correct Ms. Rodriguez about her name. Her first week of school is so unbearably lonely that Maya decides to create the perfect new friend-a robot. The robot that convenience store owner Mr. Mac had half-finished in his back room, his late son Christopher's pet project that never got finished. But Maya finds the perfect energy source, and suddenly she has Ralph; someone to talk to, to teach, someone to do chores and help her mom out-and most importantly, a companion. Even as Maya continues to miss her friends and struggle socially in school, everything Ralph-related is smooth sailing-until he is sabotaged at her school's big science fair. Maya is a lovable, creative kid who readers will be rooting for from the start. Ewing imbues her with a curious, introspective spirit; Maya's astute yet age-appropriate descriptions of her feelings may help young readers become more attuned to their own. There is a strong subtext of community care and support as Maya fondly describes her diverse neighborhood, full of people of various skin tones and ethnicities. This sweet story of a shy girl adjusting to new circumstances also shows her researching unfamiliar terms, experimenting, and asking big questions, all necessary skills for scientists. And perhaps the most important skill of all: collaboration, as Maya works with Christopher's notebook to bring his vision to life. Tweens will encounter potentially new STEM vocabulary and concepts like prototype, actuator, and bioinspiration. Almeda's buoyant black-and-white art breathes life into an already lively cast and plot. VERDICT A heartfelt title that seamlessly brings tech and creativity to a tween audience with delightful characters and gentle humor. Highly recommended for young fiction collections.

Copyright 2021 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publisher's Weekly

Starred Review

Maya Robinson, a Black, science-loving fifth grader, is having a tough start to the school year: her two best friends, MJ and Jada, are in a different class for the first time since the group was five. Though Maya is close to her parents and younger brother, Amir, she still struggles with feeling lonely, left out, and shy at school, where she’s having trouble befriending new classmates, especially bully Zoe Winters. Then Maya unearths barrel-bodied robot Ralph while helping at Mr. Mac’s neighborhood store. Throwing herself into figuring out how Ralph works, Maya uses notes left by his builder, Mr. Mac’s son, Christopher. Ralph can walk, talk, help with chores, and more; the robot doesn’t always execute every command perfectly, however, and disaster ensues when Maya brings Ralph to the school science fair. Maya is a winning protagonist amid a warm, mostly Black cast, continually grounded and guided by her compassion, ingenuity, and curiosity. Interspersed with charming, animation-style b&w illustrations by Almeda, Ewing’s tender-hearted middle grade debut wholly conveys the strength it takes to come out of one’s shell, the thrill of discovery and creation, and the power of pursuing wonder. Ages 8-12.

Copyright 2021 Publisher’s Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Eve L Ewing
Eve L. Ewing is the award-winning author of Electric Arches, 1919, and Ghosts in the Schoolyard. She also wrote the acclaimed Ironheart and Champions series for Marvel Comics. Her work has appeared in many venues, including the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Washington Post, and Vanity Fair. Born and raised in Chicago, she was a middle school teacher before completing her doctorate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Currently she is an assistant professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration.

Christine Almeda is a Filipina American freelance illustrator, character designer, and lover of sunshine. She graduated from Montclair State University with a BFA focused on character design and children's media. She believes in the power of creativity, diverse storytelling, and that art can make life more beautiful. Learn more at or connect with the illustrator @eychristine.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Publication date
May 03, 2022
BISAC categories
JUV039140 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance
JUV011010 - Juvenile Fiction | People & Places | United States - African-American
JUV056000 - Juvenile Fiction | Robots
Library of Congress categories

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