I’m going to start right off by saying this is not a book that anyone would pick up today without thinking “Wow, that book looks old.” It does look old. It looks kind of…dare I say?…kind of silly.
But I still love it.
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Andy Buckram’s Tin Men was written by Carol Ryrie Brink, and published in 1966. It’s the story of Andy Buckram, a twelve year old whose favorite thing to read is The Boy’s Popular Mechanics Magazine. From what he has learned, and a little ingenuity and imagination, Andy has invented four “tin men” (okay, they’re really robots) out of tin cans, scraps of metal and odds and ends from whatever he can find around town and in the local junkyard.
Andy’s first tin man was supposed to be scary, or at least functional–but Campbell (named after the soup cans he was created from) is just a big, cute baby. Bucket, Andy’s second tin man was created to do the chores that he hates. The third tin man is actually a tin woman–Lily Belle–created from to the specification of Andy’s friend Sparrow. And the fourth tin man? He’s to help Andy with the leaky rowboat he uses to get between jobs.
You see, the money for running all these tin men has to come from somewhere, and Andy’s parents’ don’t have much extra. So Andy takes his leaking rowboat from his farm to a junk-sorting job to a babysitting job in order to make enough money to create the tin men and keep them functioning. Until THAT day…the day when a lightning storm struck and destroyed the farmhouse, and set Andy, his baby cousin Dot, and the four electrified tin men adrift in a leaky boat with no oars drifting downstream toward a deserted island…
As a kid, I loved the adventure, and the situation Andy finds himself in is a true test of survival. I also liked Andy, who invented ways out of danger, kept track of a toddler, an annoying neighbor and four animated robots all going in different directions, and still managed to keep his head in a very difficult situation. I liked Dot, the annoying little cousin (very like my little sisters at the time) who managed to grow up quite a bit in the course of their journey. Mostly though, I loved the tin men, with their very different personalities, Andy’s relationship with them, and their relationships with each other as they become more aware of themselves.
The end left me hoping for more adventures, but if there were more, I had to make them up in my head. Andy’s one adventure in the flood was the only one written down.
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Carol Ryrie Brink is probably best remembered for books featuring strong girls–Caddie Woodlawn and Mary and Jean, the two sisters in Baby Island are probably the most well-known–but I always wished that Andy had gotten more attention. He definitely deserved it!
The book is dated, but not in a bad way. Like The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, it just has to be read as being set in the time it was written. It’s sort of science fiction, but only in one aspect. Mostly, it’s a story of invention, pluckiness and friendship. If you have a budding scientist who likes robots and doesn’t mind a lack of computers or aliens, they should like this book. For kids in middle grades, or try reading it aloud to a scientifically-minded second or third grader.