Review: Wild Robot Escapes
In this second installment in Peter Brown’s Wild Robot series, Robot Roz finds new challenges in her quest to reunite with her gosling son, Brightbill. Recently refurbished to work on a a farm, Roz befriends the farm’s inhabits who help her make a plan to return to the island home of her animal friends and family.
Kathleen McInerney’s narration gently mixes the book’s heartfelt tone with each new adventure. Although McInerney did not narrate the first Wild Robot book, her Roz is similar style. It is slightly robotic but still warm and tender. Roz’s voice is listenable and pleasant, and the listener can hear the good hearted kindness peeking out of each thoughtful word. McInerney’s depiction of the book’s secondary characters is noteworthy, too. The cows are each sweetly naive, the farm children, Jad and Jaya, are earnest and helpful, and the wolves are bloodthirsty. I really enjoyed the final few scenes where Roz meets the robots’ original inventor, whose voice felt both proud and troubled by her creations. McInerney’s characters felt child friendly but not cartoony or cutesey.
McInerney’s choices alone might have placed this book on our Odyssey radar, but where Wild Robot Escapes really shines as an audio is in the choices in background music and sound effects. The audio is awash with sounds that create a truly unique listening experience. The background sounds help orient listeners in an location: the farm setting has low hum of animal noises and farm equipment, while the city sounds like endless traffic jam reverberating off tall buildings.
The background noises also demonstrate the book’s action and heighten the plot’s high points. When a tornado strikes the farm or the when wolves attack, the background sounds build tension and mirror McInerney’s anxious voices. When midway through the book, Roz leaves the farm and is travelling through the ever expansive countryside, the accompanying music is spot-on and acts as a sonic transition. The music is exciting and yet steady, while also signaling a change in location and action.
Overall, these sounds aren’t overpowering or distracting, but are just subtle enough to paint a picture of the setting. The beeps and bops of a robot traversing the noisy human world are just at the right levels to give the listener a sense of Roz’s movements, without feeling like fancy sonic bells and whistles were added just because there happen to be illustrations in the book.
This audio is just so full of moments that mirror the printed book’s objectives. Peter Brown’s illustrations are extraordinary and really capture the mood, place and action of the story, so switching mediums feels like a tricky endeavor. But the production team did a lot of work on this audio. One can hear the care and attention paid to getting the what is said on the page and in the drawings correct as well as conveying the underlying subtext of the story.
Having listened to the first audio, it is also impressive that second audiobook feels similar, yet still notable with a totally different narrator. I honestly was surprised to see it was a different narrator, since both audios feel so connected to each other. Although I didn’t personally find text as memorable as the first, Wild Robot Escapes is a unique and immersive listen that deserves attention.
Wild Robot Escapes, by Peter Brown, read by Kathleen McInerney. 4 hours and 36 minutes Hachette Audio, 2018.
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