Say Something, Perico

author: Trudy Harris
illustrator: Cecilia Rébora
Lerner/Millbrook, 2011
grades 1-3 
(generic) Latino

Say Something, Perico reminds me of an elderly uncle I used to have who took a very long time to get to the point of whatever he would be talking about. In a story, length isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but his stories were both long and very, very boring.

Perico is a Spanish-speaking parrot who lives in a pet store and wants a permanent home. Buyers keep returning him because they keep misinterpreting what he’s saying. For instance, when he says, “agua” to call attention to his empty water dish, a new owner takes him to the opera; when he says, “mal,” another new owner takes him to the mall, and when he says “si,” still another owner takes him to the sea. Everywhere he is taken, Perico causes a ruckus. The parrot practices very hard to speak English, and finally, meets a little boy and his mother who happen to be bilingual. Perfect match. The End.

Puns across language can sometimes be humorous, but Say Something, Perico is wordy (1,081 words to be exact, including squawks but not counting the glossary of Spanish words) and contrived, and it doesn’t hold together as a joke, if indeed that is what it’s supposed to be.

The story’s not biologically accurate, either: Parrots mimic human speech by responding to cues that occur regularly and that are interesting to them. They don’t carry on conversations and they don’t practice phrases.

I’m guessing there might be an attempt at a message here, maybe something about struggling with language acquisition and bilingualism and being understood and getting along and being valued for who you are. I don’t know.

Rébora’s mixed media illustrations, consisting of what may be cut paper, water color, marking pen and colored pencil on a palette of bold, bright colors, are engaging, but not enough to save this story.

Throughout several painful readings, I kept remembering my boring uncle, and I was totally unable to suspend disbelief. Not recommended.

—Beverly Slapin
(published 4/7/13)

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