Books about birthdays are wonderful ways of introducing children to an intricate social situation that can mix family, friends, and neighbours into a single space. After all, as Alison Doherty wrote about the topic in a birthday poem post, “Some people love them. Other people hate them. But we all have them.” And since we all have them, we might as well teach kids about the day’s potential complexity.
Personally, I love ‘em. While I might not find aging quite as cute anymore, I can’t help but shake my love of a day that is all about being celebrated. Birthdays let us find creative, thoughtful ways of showing our loved ones that we care about them — from being attentive and present to choosing a love-infused gift. Not only do I love my birthday, but planning for a friend’s birthday can also be so wonderful because you know that you are doing something that will make your loved one feel good!
Of course, having said all that, birthdays don’t always work out how we want or expect. For that reason, I chose these books because they provide kiddos with a wide range of birthday experiences: surprise parties, baking cakes, and even the occasional sad birthday. So let’s dig into this list of eight birthday books for children.
When’s My Birthday by Julie Fogliano and Christian Robinson
The real joy of this book is Robinson’s art, which I remain a steadfast and true fan of. His mix of acrylic paint and collage illustrations are somewhat muted in colour, but their calm allows the smiling faces of characters to really glow. Overall, this book has no concrete story, just Fogliano whimsically imagining excited pre-birthday chatter between a kid and, well, anyone who will listen. As a self-professed b-day lover, I have definitely pestered people with some of these questions.
What a Party! by Ana Maria Machado & Hélène Moreau
This is the English translation of Mas que festa!, a picture book about a party that just keeps getting wilder and wackier. Its story is about a little boy inviting too many friends to his birthday party, each one encouraged to bring whoever they want and their favourite food. There is a lot of dancing and eating at this neighbourhood party, and the music and food represent the multiculturalism of the partygoers.
A Piece of Cake by LeUyen Pham
Our hero, Mouse, has baked a special treat for Little Bird’s birthday. Off Mouse goes to make his birthday delivery, but everyone he passes wants a piece of cake — offering to trade it for some weird, unbirthday-like gifts. Mouse can’t say no to anyone and ends up without any cake left for Little Bird — will his friend be mad? Or can Little Bird figure out a way to fix their problem? This is an adorable story about kindness, creativity, and friendship.
Abuelita and I Make Flan by Adriana Hernández Bergstrom
Anita loves baking with Abuelita. One day, they are making flan for her abuelo’s birthday when Anita accidentally breaks her abuelita’s treasured flan serving plate from Cuba — should she tell the truth and admit she broke it? This is a well-written, warm and lovely story about intergenerational bonding.
Moira’s Birthday by Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko
This is an absurd, comical tale about Moira, a girl who invites the whole first, second, third, fourth, sixth grade, aaaand kindergarten to her birthday party. Munsch is excellent at writing absurd picture books, and this is definitely one of his wackiest. Published when I was a teeny tiny myself, it’s the ultimate comic birthday party picture book. It’s devastating to realize I now relate more to the beleaguered, tired adults than the fun-loving, pizza-chomping kiddos though.
Ginger and Chrysanthemum by Kristen Mai Giang and Shirley Chan
Preparing for a party doesn’t often go without drama. Aimed at slightly older kids, this story is about two cousins preparing for their grandmother’s birthday party. The two girls are like “soybeans in a pod,” different but complimentary, but hijinks ensue when they are asked to collaborate on a birthday cake. It’s a lovely, flavour-infused story about finding balance in differences.
Happy Birthday, Alice Babette by Monica Kulling and Qin Leng
Gertrude has forgotten Alice’s birthday! Or has she? Alice goes out and tries to fill her day with a pleasant walk around Paris, while Gertrude attempts to bake a delicious surprise cake. When Alice returns home to find that Gertrude has half-prepared a party before becoming entwined in writing a poem for her, Alice chips in to help make their shindig go smoothly. The really cute art complements an adorable, playful story, although it’s disappointing that a book about Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas refers to them as simply “friends.” C’mon now.
Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
For the slightly older picture book reader, this rhyming birthday tale about a shy hatmaker will put a smile on everyone’s face. Beaty and Roberts are the powerhouse creators behind the Questioneers series, and as always they pair whimsy and education, and the rhymes are clever enough to make adults chortle along. Plus, it portrays a not-so-happy birthday, a concept that all kiddos gotta learn sometime!
And there you have it, my favourite books about birthdays. I hope you agree that these eight titles do a great job of capturing the delight, joy, and sometimes even sadness of these special days.