Skip to main content
Cover for Masterpiece Robot

Masterpiece Robot

And the Ferocious Valerie Knick-Knack

Frank Tra, Rebecca Evans (Illustrator)


List Price: 17.95*
* Individual store prices may vary.


Masterpiece Robot pays tribute to the power of a child’s vivid imagination, which can transform a suburban autumn backyard into a futuristic battleground and Laura’s lively siblings into unwitting but enthusiastic participants in a fight for a planet’s survival. We begin in Laura’s bedroom where she is struggling to find her way into the story she wants to write, and we end there with Laura putting the finishing touches on her triumphant tale.  

When Laura—a.k.a. Masterpiece Robot—heads into the backyard with her little sister Molly—a.k.a. Sidekick—her active imagination places them instead on patrol around the perimeter of a dystopian city, guarding against super villains. Then older sister Amber—a.k.a. Valerie Knick-Knack—throws handfuls of fallen leaves at them, unknowingly initiating a battle for the ages.  

The transitions back and forth from suburbia to dystopia in this story within a story are deftly rendered with contrasting palettes. The rollicking interactions of the sibling heroes and villains make Masterpiece Robot pure fun to read.

Lexile Level 900

Fountas and Pinnell Level V

Praise For Masterpiece Robot: And the Ferocious Valerie Knick-Knack

Comic-book action, an innocent backyard, and four siblings with wild imaginations combine to create an adventurous afternoon. A girl of mixed Asian/white descent named Laura heads out into the front yard with her little sister, Molly, to help rake leaves. But Laura has a secret identity—Masterpiece Robot—and so do her siblings. To them, the outside world offers exciting perils and the potential for adventure. Each vivid, dynamically illustrated spread splits into comic-book panels that alternate between brightly colored reality and a somber comic-book world in which Masterpiece Robot and Sidekick (Molly) battle the Ferocious Valerie Knick-Knack, an older sister, with the help of their brother, Lord MekMek. The children crash and smash through piles of leaves in a sci-fi battle with spaceships, blasters, and robot parts as our heroes try to save the world. Humorous text, split between dialogue and narrative in a manner typical of comic books, asks, "Will the world as we know it become forever shrouded in despair, misery, early bedtimes, and extra servings of vegetables?" Family, imagination, and the endless possibilities of outdoor play intersect at the core of this lively, memorable story, written by a Vietnamese-American graphic novelist. This story neatly celebrates the dailiness of a diverse family and the magic of togetherness in the face of all kinds of adventure. (Graphic fiction. 7-11)

— Kirkus

This one is such a fun read, and one kids will definitely relate to! It also lets adults relive those childhood memories where ordinary things – such as a pile of leaves, or a large cardboard box – can turn extraordinary with just a bit of imagination. The transitions back and forth from suburbia to dystopia in this story within a story are deftly rendered with contrasting palettes. The rollicking interactions of the sibling heroes and villains make Masterpiece Robot pure fun to read.  

I love this book! I love the story, I love the spread of imaginative play, and I love the humor! It is so smart how the author and illustrator told both stories: the literal and the imaginative, and both stories are developed and fun to read together AND separately. This made for a quite complex book which is also really appealing to kids (and parents/teachers). I’m also a big fan of the artwork in the book. The illustrator did an amazing job changing the style just a bit for the imaginative and the reality but also kept her signature style in both. The illustrations definitely added to the narrative making this book a must get. I also loved that this is a sci-fi picture book because not many exist.


No author, no matter how talented, no matter how many pages written or how wide a scope cast, can rival a child for sheer, unbridled imagination. Children are natural-born storytellers, and, unlike most adults, they don’t have built-in limits for what makes sense or what can logically follow a given event. Kids are awesome that way.

Masterpiece Robot brings a little bit of that childlike magic to life, offering a split-screen view of reality versus imagination in this delightfully quick read. As we see the real backyard antics of Molly and Laura, we also watch the parallel story of Masterpiece Robot and Sidekick battling the fierce robotic army of Valerie Knick-Knack.

The color scheme is vivid, and the little metallic flourishes on heroes and robots alike add a nice touch of crispness and detail to the wild visuals. Although we’re given little background on the world behind Masterpiece Robot — all of the focus is on the kids’ alter egos, not the environment they inhabit — that ensures that we constantly keep our eyes on the faux-fight between siblings.

It’s a fun way to transport young readers and parents alike back to the days of cardboard spaceships and blanket forts-turned-castles.

— Glenn Dallas - The Manhattan Review

Tilbury House Publishers, 9780884485186, 36pp.

Publication Date: April 3, 2018

About the Author

A child of
Vietnamese immigrants, FRANK TRA proudly calls Wichita, Kansas home. Frank
attended the University of Kansas to wrestle and write comic books. While
there, he also earned a Doctorate in Pharmacy. He has been a cancer
pharmacist for the last ten years. Frank's writing credits include two graphic
novels and several comic books. Masterpiece Robot is his first children's book.
Dr. Tra resides in a quiet neighborhood with his wife, Katy, and their six
children: Amber, Laura, Roman, Molly, Tommy, and Isaac. He spends his
spare time writing, fishing, and coaching his high school wrestling team.

Rebecca Evans worked for nine years as an artist and designer before returning to her first love: children’s book illustration and writing. Her books include Someday I’ll Fly; Friends in Fur Coats; The Shopkeeper’s Bear; Naughty Nana; Mei Ling in China; Finding the Speed of Light (starred review, Kirkus); and Alone Like Me (starred review, Kirkus). She lives in Maryland with her husband and four young children, teaches art at the Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts, and works from her home studio whenever time permits. Rebecca’s boundless imagination enjoys free rein at