Sunshine’s best friend (or possibly mate) goes to great lengths to ensure that the grumpy panda’s birthday is not only not forgotten, but auditorily memorable in this Scottish import about the pandas of the Edinburgh Zoo.
After pondering the problem of how to make Sunshine’s birthday wonderful, the resourceful Sweetie picks the lock on her enclosure and pays a visit to each of the other zoo denizens. Night gradually falls as she checks to be sure each can sing, encouraging each out loud but often thinking dismissive thoughts to herself: “Sweetie was tempted to put her paws over her ears.” She then whispers her plan to the enthusiastic animals and moves on to the next cage, cleverly depicted in Nethercott’s cartoon illustrations to look as natural as possible. The enclosures are mostly hinted at by a single wall or fence; the puzzled but clueless zookeeper stands just outside, almost catching Sweetie at one point. The next day, the cacophonous riot of “Happy Birthday” almost deafens the zookeeper, but Sunshine is thrilled, which pleases Sweetie. The pandas’ facial expressions are nicely done, though thankfully, Sweetie’s rarely matches what she is thinking as she listens to the zoo animals’ singing.
While this is a “sweet” tale of friendship, the simplistic plot ultimately falls flat, especially given Sweetie’s unkind thoughts. (Picture book. 4-7)