Ben Hatke serves up an all ages read that is fun and entertaining, light-hearted and sweet in “Little Robot.” It’s not as methodically over-the-top as a Disney tale, but it does pack emotion and character in a story that borrows a little bit of inspiration from “Lilo & Stitch.”
Two characters fill the majority of the pages of this character: a little robot and a little girl. The girl happens to be out on an adventure of her own when she finds the robot. From there, the adventure is shared. The little girl introduces the robot to cats and flowers and the robot offers companionship the girl did not realize she needed.
The first bit of dialogue is on page twenty-seven of “Little Robot.” With over one hundred pages of story, only one character has legitimate dialogue, but Hatke’s storytelling is so primal and clear that dialogue becomes unnecessary. Yes, robotic exclamations like “JONK!” and “MORP!” serve as placeholders for “real” speech, but Hatke makes the line of communication between the little girl and her “pet” robot work through body language, gestures and expressions.
The word around the duo is innocent and beautiful, spoiled by technology and discarded items but lush and lively thanks to the organic energy infused in the watercolor hues that emanate from the pages. One image in particular shows the pair on a fallen tree, detritus on the ground around them but a gorgeous sunset in the distance. The warmth from the sunset washes over the girl and robot and makes the whole scene breathe, despite the tackle boxes, beverage cans and cinder blocks embedded in the shore. With an assist from Louis Decrevel, the coloring helps amplify Hatke’s story, adding emphasis to story beats, like the appearance of “ZOM!” bot and the storm rolling into the confrontational scene.
“Little Robot” brings readers an all ages story that is accessible and consumable for everyone. Grandparents will get a different level of appreciation from this tale than preschoolers will, but the story is strong enough either one could share it with the other. Hatke’s characters — even the robots — are organic and filled with life, inviting the readers into “Little Robot” to stay a while. This ambitious tale shares the experience of life, death, conflict and resolution. “Little Robot” also celebrates differences and discovers similarities but, most importantly, it gives readers a fun, memorable story with endearing characters. The charm of “Little Robot” sits squarely on its self-contained wonder, but — if Hatke revisited this cast of characters at some point down the road — I will be right there waiting to read more.