The Best Birthday Party Ever by Jennifer LaRue Huget is a standout book for so many reasons that it has been in heavy rotation at the story times I do at the bookstore since it hit the shelves a couple of weeks ago. First of all, as a longtime children's bookseller I can tell you just HOW FEW good books about birthdays there really are on the shelves. Granted, I think that finding a good plot for a birthday themed book is actually more difficult than you would imagine. There is always the risk of alienating readers who's birthday it IS NOT. It is hard to capture the excitement and anticipation of a birthday party while treading lightly around party guests who might be a little bent that they are not the center of attention. One brilliant way that Huget diffuses this potentially explosive situation is to have the birthday girl imagine/plan a birthday party that is well beyond anyone's means and get a modest (but fun) party in the end. Another wonderful part of this book is the narrator's/Huget's stellar imagination when it comes to party ideas. And she is generous with her ideas as well. While she has no problem anticipating a birthday card from the President and the Queen as well as a parade in her honor with a float that showcases her presents, she also plans for REAL tiaras for her girl guests and hand-sewn (by her mother) clown hats with bells on top for the boy guests. She also plans to give everyone a REAL LIVE hamster as a party favor.
But, what makes this book a genuine home run are the stellar illustrations. The amazingly prolific and diverse artist LeUyen Pham, who's website is supercool and worth visiting (and who is married to the equally prolific artist Alexandre Puvilland, also with a website worth visiting and with whom she collaborated on a Prince of Persia graphic novel) brings a rich color palette and an eye for detail that falls somewhere between the sophistication and intricacies of Hilary Knight's srtyle and the colorful exuberance of Mark Teague's style. And, of course, Pham brings something all her own to her work. Every page is a treat to observe and, as the narrator's ideas escalate, there is more to see. One of my favorite illustrations, below, includes two heaping bowls of colorful sprinkles to go along with the seven scoops of ice cream that each guest has been promised.
One very nice touch to the book, one that keeps the snowballing story moving along, has the narrator telling us just how far away her birthday party is. The book begins with, "My birthday is 5 months, 3 weeks, 2 days and 8 hours away. Today I'm starting to plan my party." We get updates, right to the end, and the illustration below shows the narrator being tucked into be the night before the Big Day. And, while she accepts the low-key birthday party that she receives with grace, the narrator waits until the last guest has gone home and then she beings planning next year's party!
Jennifer LaRue Huget is also the author of the VERY funny How to Clean Your Room in 10 Easy Steps, illustrated by frequent contributor to the New Yorker, Ed Koren. Below is a sample of one of the steps...
#2 Pull everything out of your drawers and closet and shelves. Every Single Thing.
All your marbles and your dolls and their eensy-beensy little shoes and your bracelets and barrettes and birthday cards … Dump it all in the middle of the room. Then plunk yourself down, pick a doll out of the pile, and braid her hair until someone comes up to scream at you again.