Dick King-Smith, who's most popular book is probably Babe: The Gallant Pig, was a farmer in England for twenty years before turning his trade to teaching and eventually writing children's books. His knowledge of and reverence for animals is evident in every book he writes. What I love best about Dick King-Smith, however, is the length of his books, most of which come in at 150 pp and are a 2nd or 3rd grade reading level. Even better, King-Smith is a prolific writer with many titles to choose from. I came across Lady Lollipop, illustrated by Jill Barton who may be best known for her work with Amy Hest on her Baby Duck books, while searching for chapter books with a birthday theme and am so happy I did.
Lady Lollipop begins with Queen Ethywynne, who spoils Princess Penelope "quite a bit," and her father, King Theophilius, who "spoils her rotten," discussing possible gifts for her eighth birthday. A pony? A puppy? A kitten? Sure she will not like any of these, they summon her to the throne room to ask her directly what she would like. Being spoiled, Penelope makes them wait and then snaps at them for interrupting her play. When they finally get down to discussing gifts, Penelope surprises them and insists that she wants a pig.
All the pig owners in the kingdom are ordered to bring their best pig to the village green on the day of the princess' birthday. Penelope passes over many good looking pigs only to settle on a young, smudgy, skinny pig with a young, smudgy, skinny owner named Johnny Skinner. While the King and the Queen do not approve of Penelope's choice, let alone her desire for a pet pig, they give in to her and prepare to take the pig home. Johnny, looking heartbroken, reveals that he is an orphan and this pig is all he has in the world. He goes on to show how truly special his pig is by asking her to sit, roll over, stand and lay down. No one knew "whether it was because she felt some pity for the boy, or whether it was because she'd worked out that he'd be useful for jobs like mucking out the pig, or whether it was because the pig suddenly sat down before her and looked up into her eyes and gave a little grunt," but something made the Princess look kindly upon Johnny and insist that he be her personal pig keeper. Then she thinks to ask, "what's her name, this pig of mine?" To which Johnny replies, "Lollipop."
Once at the palace, the Penelope becomes angered when Lollipop won't obey her commands. And, with a chapter titled, "I Wonder if I Could Train Her?" her being Penelope, Johnny's work begins. He begins with Penelope who, while she quickly learns to speak gently and have patience with Lollipop, also insists that she become a house (or palace) pig and the story takes off. Johnny now has his hands full training Penelope to be thoughtful and kind, training Lollipop to do her business outside and in a specific place and thinking up ways to keep the Queen from moving out of the castle when Lollipop moves in. On top of all this is the King's promise to make Johnny a Duke if he can do it all.
Lady Lollipop begins with a spoiled brat and a seemingly misguided birthday wish and ends a happy family that has increased by two members. It is both funny and charming and I am sure kids will enjoy hearing this read out lout, or, even better, reading it on their own. I love this book (which is available in paperback) and sold two in a day without even recommending it! I have also been reading the first two chapters at story in the hope that the kids would want to know how the story ends and insist mom and dad take it home with them...
The sequel to Lady Lollipop, Clever Lollipop, finds Johnny with a brand new idea to improve the lives of Penelope and the King and Queen, this time with a teacher to educate the Princess! Sadly, this book is out of print, but I found used copies for .02 cents!!!
OTHER CHAPTER BOOKS WITH BIRTHDAY THEMES
The Squirel's Birthday and other Parties, written by Toon Tellegen and illustrated by Jessica Ahlberg is utterly charming and a gorgeous gift for a child turning 5 - 8. I reviewed this book and it's companion in May of 2010, so I won't go into the details here. However, my favorite part of the book is when, after sending invitations out on the wind to all the forest creatures, Squirrel realizes that all his guests have different tastes and he spends days making a cake to suit everyone's preferences. The best cake of all is the glittery drop of water served in a cupcake wrapper for the dragonfly. This is a wonderful read out loud, but, I suspect that new readers will delight in discovering this forest on their own.
More chapter books with birthday themes for older readers
Savvybegins a few days before Mississippi (Mibs) Beaumont turns thirteen. Thirteen is the age when all the kids in her family discover their savvy. For Law, a savvy is a superhuman ability that is often set off by emotional upset and requires the bearer of the savvy learn to "scumble" or control his or her emotions. This book works on so many levels and can be read metaphorically and literally and enjoyed equally. When a family tragedy occurs and Mibs' savvy doesn't arrive on schedule, the story takes off. Book two features Mibs' cousin, Ledger Kale and what he does to learn to scumble his savvy. Scumble will be published on 8/17/2010.
I am a huge fan of all that Wendy Mass does and am thrilled that she has three books that revolve around a birthday. In Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, Jeremy and his best friend Lizzy search for the four keys that will open the box with the message "THE MEANING OF LIFE: FOR JEREMY FINK TO OPEN ON HIS THIRTEENTH BIRTHDAY." In 11 Birthdays, an old curse brings two families together and tears them apart. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) for Amanda and Leo, they have to relive the day of their eleventh birthdays over and over until they mend the tear. Click on this link for reviews for two of the three books pictured below. Finally just came out a few months ago and I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I know that it is about Rory Swenson who is about to turn twelve and be allowed to do and have all those magical things she has been waiting for, like contacts, a cell phone, wearing make-up, going to the mall without parents and more.