Otis & Sydney and The Best Birthday Ever, written by Laura Numeroff and illustrated by Dan Andreasen

Author Laura Numeroff, best known for her If You Give a... books is known and loved by every child I encounter at story time and by my own kids. Illustrator Dan Andresean, while maybe not a household name, is sure to have created the artwork for at least one or two books on your shelves at home. Most notably, Andreasean is the illustrator of the hugely popular American Girls series featuring Samantha and Felicity as well as the covers for the spin-offs of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House books. Together, Numeroff and Andresean bring us the story of Otis & Sydney and the Best Birthday Ever.

Otis and Sydney meet one day at a rainy bus stop and, after sharing an umbrella, become fast friends. Every year, they throw each other birthday parties and this year, Otis decides to make the party he's planning for Sydney a surprise. He mails out the invitations and, when the big day comes, prepares for the festivities. Balloons are blown up, a cake is baked and the music is ready, but where is everybody?

Soon, Otis checks his calendar and realizes that he has put the wrong date on the invitations and that's why none of the guests have arrived! But, it's too late to change things now. Otis decides to soldier on and jumps out, yelling "Surprise!" when Sydney arrives.

Despite the lack of guests, the two bears have a fine time playing all the party games - dressing up in costumes, jumping on the trampoline and playing the harmonica and accordion together. Sydney opens his present from Otis and the two move on to the cake. In my favorite scene from the book, Otis cuts the cake in half - a piece for each of them! This prompts Sydney to ask why there is so much cake and Otis explains his mix-up. Thinking he has ruined Sydney's birthday, Sydney assures Otis that is is the best birthday ever!


For great board books to give to children three years an under, check out It's My Birthday by Helen Oxenbury and all the other super birthday books included in the review.

The Birthday Book is a great keepsake book that is worth mentioning: Amy Krouse Rosenthal, author of many delightful picture books, including The Wonder Book,Little Pea, Spoon and theCookies books. Rosenthal is also the creator/author of several journals for families that include The Belly Book, The Sibling Book, The Grandparent Book,Words to Remember: A Journal For Your Child's Sweet and Amusing Sayings, andThe Birthday Book. Born from the idea that birthdays provide the perfect annual event to record memories from your child's life, you start at birth and fill it out up to the eighteenth birthday. Besides providing questions and suggestions about what to record, there are places for pictures and envelopes for mementos like invitations and art work. And, being the all-around crafty person she is, of course Rosenthal provides activities for the parties. This is the PERFECT keepsake to give to well meaning parents (like me) who are too busy with living life to dedicate the time needed to scrapbook, journal or engage in the other meaningful activities that record experiences and memories.

Snail's Birthday Wish, written by Fiona Rempt and illustrated by Noelle Smit is a versatile birthday story that has been a story time favorite at work since it came out in 2007. The guests, ay number of forest creatures, arrive at Snail's birthday party with a slew of oddly shaped gifts in tow. Snail makes a wish before blowing out the candles on his cake. By the time he opens his last present, his wish has come true! Each friend has brought a different part to a car that will allow him to zip around the woods unencumbered by his normally slow pace.

My kids and I loved Rosemary Wells' bunnies Max and Ruby long before they were television stars. While I'm not thrilled with the drop in production value that comes with turing a picture book into an animated show, I am so happy for Wells to receive the attention that her long career and marvelous work deserves. Bunny Cakes takes the dynamic duo and follows them as they try to make a cake for Grandma's birthday (be sure to check out Bunny Money, which follows them as they shop for Grandma's birthday present.) When Max's attempts to help end up with several trips to the market to replace what he has ruined, Ruby finally kicks him out of the kitchen and he is free to make his own wonderful cake for Grandma. Always the diplomat, Grandma surveys her two cakes - one covered in raspberry fluff icing, buttercream roses and silver balls, the other slathered in earth worms and red-hot-marshmallow squirters - and declares that they both look so good she's not sure which to eat first! For a board book story, check out Baby Max & Ruby BIRTHDAY in which Max gets a special present from Grandma.

A Birthday for Frances is a great book to give an older sibling who IS NOT the birthday boy or girl. The birthday girl of this story is Gloria, Frances' little sister, and Frances is not coping well with it. The Hoban's are wonderful at capturing the tensions and difficulties of being a child and equally talented at presenting calm, reasonable parents who, seemingly effortlessly, guide their children through these difficult passages. Needless to say, Frances struggles with her jealousies and urge not to honor Gloria with a gift while also wanting to be like all the other party guests and give her a gift. My favorite part of the book is Frances' repeated squeezing of the CHOMPO bar she buys a gift for Gloria - along with three bubble gum balls that she chews on the way home...

Written by Nakagawa Chihiro and illustrated by Junji Koyose, Who Made this Cake? is a great birthday book everyone, but especially for boys 5 and under. Economical texts supports the intricate pictures that tell the story of the miniature construction crew that arrives at the birthday boy's house while he is out to "build" a human size birthday cake. With plenty of construction vehicles on view here, there is no way a birthday boy will not love this. But, the yummy cake and cozy family life on display in the story will win over any listener.

A Birthday for Bear, written by Bonny Becker and illustrated by Kady McDonald Denton, continues the story that began in the picture book, A Visitor For Bear. Presented as a beginning to read book, Bear and Mouse continue their new friendship. Exuberant Mouse wants to celebrate Bear's birthday, but grumpy Bear is not so sure. Nevertheless, Mouse manages to wrestle a smile out of him!

Happy Birthday to You, You Belong in a Zoo written and illustrated by Diane de Groat is a book in her series featuring Gilbert, the possum, and his friends and family. de Groat's series always tackles a childhood concern, whether it's mean kids, following rules, making the best halloween costume and often are centered around a holiday and are a bit like a contemporary version of the Hoban's Frances books. In this book, Gilbert can't believe that the class meanie, Lewis, has invited him to his party. While shopping for a birthday gift Gilbert realizes that he doesn't want to get Lewis anything nice or fun and tells his mother to get him a frying pan as a gift, even though that's what his father really wants. Once at the party, Gilbert feels remorse but happily learns that he grabbed the wrong present and, in fact, has a cool space toy to give to Lewis.

The Secret Birthday Message by Eric Carle is such a fun and inspirational book! On the night before his birthday, Tim receives a rebus note leading him on a trail of clues that will end at his birthday present. This is also a great book for kids who are not reading yet, as they can follow the rebus clues and the adventure right along with Tim. Read this well in advance of your child's birthday - you may want to try to make your own secret birthday message.

Cupcake by Charise Mericle Harper: Book Cover
I came across Cupcake by Charice Mericle Harper while searching for birthday books online. While I haven't had a chance to read it and see the interior illustrations, it sounds like a cute idea and who doesn't love cupcakes??? The Publishers Weekly review, as found at bn.com, reads as follows:

The plucky hero of this story may be a “plain and white and ordinary” cupcake, but Harper shows she's no fan of vanilla endings, leaving unresolved the conflict she sets up in the beginning. Cupcake is convinced that his relatives—Happy-Face Cupcake, Pink Princess Cupcake, and others—have more pizzazz than he does, until he meets a candle with the same problem and a bright idea. Harper's black-outlined cartoon characters appear on sparsely decorated, pastel pages to cheery effect, but it's the line-drawn facial expressions that provide most of the action. Cupcake reacts to the screwy toppings Candle brings him with appropriate horror and dubious smiles, as he is sprinkled with spaghetti, pancakes, and smelly cheese. The plot continues to focus on Cupcake's problem—Candle even apologizes for not being able to find him “something special”—but the gag ending doesn't go where some readers may suspect it's headed. After Candle retrieves a nut that a squirrel left in Cupcake's frosting, Candle stands tall atop the cupcake and delivers a closing zinger: “Hey, wait a minute.... Tomorrow, let's try celery!”


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.

Lady Lollipop by Dick King-Smith is a charming fairy-tale like story about a an indulgent king and queen, a spoiled girl and her birthday wish that changes everything. There are also a few great chapter books for older readers with birthday themes as well and they can be found under the label: Birthday Theme.

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