Kid's Stuff -- Books About Birthdays
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Birthdays... wow. What with the cake, and the singing and the games and the giving and the getting of presents -- not to mention getting older -- they sure are a big deal for little kids! So of course there are about a bazillion books about birthdays... Here are just a few that we've had the chance to read...

"Little Gorilla"
Written by Ruth Lercher Bornstein
Illustrated by Ruth Lercher Bornstein
(Clarion, 1976)

A delightful birthday book that reflects -- with surprising emotional depth -- on the anxieties of growing old. Little Gorilla is just about the cutest little critter in the whole jungle, and all the animals love him. His parents and relatives, the giraffes, elephants, birds and even the boa constrictors dote on the fuzzy little guy. But what about when he grows up and gets all hairy and big? Yup. They still love him then! Everybody comes to his birthday party and sings and shares cake, and Little Gorilla knows he's still the same person, just a little bigger. The artwork is perfectly suited to this sweet, simple story -- bold, blocky and colorful, the information leaps off the page, easy to understand and quite inviting. A true classic, with deservingly long-lived appeal. (A)

"You Have To Be Nice To Someone On Their Birthday"
Written by Barbara Bottner
Illustrated by Tatiana Mai-Wyss
(Putnam, 2007)


"Happy Birthday To You, Blue Kangaroo!"
Written by Emma Chichester Clark
Illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark
(Andersen Press, 2006)


"Jack's Little Party"
Written by Bob Graham
Illustrated by Bob Graham
(Walker Books, 2007)


"Alfie Gives A Hand"
Written by Shirley Hughes
Illustrated by Shirley Hughes
(Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1983)

One of the sweetest books in the "Alfie" series, in which a shy, quiet Alfie is invited to a birthday party for the very first time, armed with his security blanket, but winds up setting it aside so he can help cheer up a little girl who is more even timid than he... The story, the artwork, the pacing are all perfect, as is the ambiance of the story -- you really feel like you're there with Alfie, seeing things through his eyes... For little readers, this can be a real eye-opening book, modeling simple (but potentially challenging) social interactions, and defusing some of the anxiety shy kids might feel at parties and similar events. A really charming story in which Alfie emerges as a gentle hero. Recommended! (A)

"Hooray, A Pinata!"
Written by Elisa Kleven
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Dutton, 1996)

Another great book -- the first one by Kleven that we read, and still one of our favorites! A young girl named Clara wants to have a pinata for her birthday, and invites her friend Samson along to go to the store and help her pick one out. She picks a small pinata of a dog, but winds up using it as a surrogate pet and becomes sad that it will have to be destroyed at her party. So Samson goes back to the shop and buys her another, larger pinata, thus giving her two gifts (and getting the pinata that he would have chosen instead!) A lovely tale about friendship, this has less of a fantastical quality than Kleven's other books (no one flies anywere, and the character are humans), although the ornate artwork is still packed with detail and vibrant life. San Francisco Bay Area locals will recognize their environs right away, with a compact view of the City and the Mission District, where the pinata comes from. A delightful story that will ring true on many levels. (A+)

"Boo And Baa In A Party Mood"
Written by Olof & Lena Landstrom
Illustrated by Olof & Lena Landstrom
(Raben & Sjogren, 1999)


"The Birthday Box"
Written by Leslie Patricelli
Illustrated by Leslie Patricelli
(Candlewick, 2007)

Bright and colorful artwork, although I didn't really care for the text... A baby is having her/his first birthday and is totally psyched to get a big cardboard box from Grandma... When it turns out there's also a puppy inside the box, it's almost besides the point, since the baby is having so much fun pretending that the box is an airplane, a pirate ship, and all the other wonderful things an imaginative little kid can come up with when playing with the simplest of objects. Finally, of course, it ends with a nap, baby and puppy cuddled up in the big box -- which also makes a nice comfy bed. This does capture the way kids can sometimes latch onto the plainest of objects and trip out on them for hours, while the super-mega-blinkorama-macrotoy sits around gathering dust. Still, I wasn't thrilled by the text, which seems particularly artless... This may appeal to really little toddlers; for a more complicated story dealing with a similar topic, you might also check out Marisabina Russo's The Big Brown Box. (C)

"New Shoes, Red Shoes"
Written by Susan Rollings
Illustrated by Susan Rollings
(Orchard Books, 2000)

A young girl goes to the shoe store with her mother and picks out a shiny new pair of shoes for a big birthday party she's been invited to. She's all smiles as she goes to the store, picks out the shoes, takes them home, tries them on and wears them to the big bash. The text isn't particularly compelling, but the book is cheerful and giddily exuberant... Nice artwork helps, too; great for toddlers. If getting new shoes is a hot topic around your house, you might really enjoy this one. (B)

"Happy Birthday, Lulu!"
Written by Caroline Uff
Illustrated by Caroline Uff
(Walker Books, 2000)

Lulu gets some cards in the mail, gets dressed in her pretty new clothes, has a modest birthday celebration with a handful of friends and her two siblings. Her big gift from her parents is a Noah's Ark toy -- if that sort of religious reference bothers you, you might want to skip this one... Or, you could just call it her "boat." All in all, this one's pretty nice, too... My kid loves these books. (A)

"Miko: Double Birthday!"
Written by Brigitte Weninger
Illustrated by Stephanie Roehe
(Penguin-Miniedition, 2004)

When Miko gets some cool stuff for his birthday, he feels bad because none of his presents are things that Mimiki, his doll, can play with. Eventually he figures it out, though. Another cute, stylishly illustrated Miko book... And this time we know for sure that Miko lives in a single-parent home, because no Daddy would miss a birthday party this gosh-darn adorable. (B+)

"The Birthday Fish"
Written by Dan Yaccarino
Illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
(Henry Holt, 2005)

Cool book. Like many young girls, little Cynthia just loves ponies and for some time now has politely but repeatedly requested one for her birthday (or for Christmas, she's not particular...) She keeps getting other stuff -- toys, bikes, even a dog -- but never a pony! You'd think her parents would catch on, eventually... This year, she was totally sure she'd get a pony, but instead she got... a fish! Cynthia was just about to take her frustrations out on the poor goldfish when it struck a deal with her... set it free and it would grant her a wish. But in the course of setting the fish free, she realized he was kind of a cool companion, and decided to keep the fish instead. I like the hip, hyper-cartoonish art, as well as the pacing and overall feel of this book. The moral of the story, such as it is, is nice, but the action itself is really engaging... It's fun to read. Yaccarino, a TV animation writer, has a few other books out as well, but this one is the best so far. Recommended! (A)

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