No matter that Cuckoo, an adorable light gray bird with stripes, doesn’t look like his polka-dotted mother and siblings. All’s well until they open their beaks in this latest pet book by Fiona Roberton, also the author of Wanted: The Perfect Pet and The Perfect Present. While the other birds give a soothing tweet, the aptly named Cuckoo responds with a definitive “cuckoo!” that his family doesn’t recognize. Cuckoo is no ugly duckling, though; he’s not interested in becoming a swan, just in finding a friend who will understand him.
In digitally enhanced illustrations with minimal background but plenty of enthusiasm, expression and typographic animal sounds, Cuckoo leaves his tree home and heads into the city. There he meets sheep waiting at the bus stop, frogs rowing in a lake, cows drinking coffee at a diner and other friendly animals who want to say hello. But not even the cows’ attempts at talking—“Moocoo?” and “Coomoo?”—nor the rabbits’ thumping feet lead to cross-species communication. Cuckoo also tries learning their languages instead, but all the books, videos and practice just leave him beak-tied.
Just when the bird resigns to being alone, he hears the faintest “cuckoo!” Following the sound, Cuckoo discovers a toddler boy, in striped pajamas no less, trying to play with a broken electronic bird (with striking similarities to Cuckoo). Cuckoo arrives just in time to be hugged by the boy, who not only understands Cuckoo but needs a friend, too. Also leading up to this warm ending are fun visuals for readers to spot and follow, from a sheep’s reccurring smiley balloon to characters from Roberton’s previous books. Anyone who doesn’t delight in this deceptively simple story of friendship must be . . . well, cuckoo.