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A Very Merry Unbirthday!

On the subject of birthday parties, I can't help fondly remember my own childhood. If you would like to skip my "flashback," click here.

When I was a little girl, my mother threw me the greatest birthday parties! I remember watching my mother fill out each of the invitations with her graceful, rounded handwriting. Weeks in advance, my mother would take me to the local party store, "the Ha-lo Gift Shop," where the saleswoman would ceremoniously turn on a basement light to reveal an Aladdin's cave of plastic "goody bag" treats. My mother would indulge me by letting me select absolutely every prize that caught my fancy: rings, plastic magnifying glasses, opalescent strings of beads, bubbles, pencils, pads of paper. Then, with the bag so full of booty it would pinch our fingers to carry it, we would go next door to Davidson's Bakery to order a cake; invariably chocolate and with a doll on top that had eyes that could open and close, perched on a plastic heart-shaped stand.

My mother would be up late the night before, draping the dining room with twisted streamers and rubbing balloons on her hair so the static would make them stick to the walls.

My father dressed as "Toot-Toot the Clown" complete with face makeup and a sequined satin top. We all played Pin the Tail on the Donkey and Hot Potato and my cake always had an extra candle on it than the number of years I was turning, "one for good luck." My mother, during the party, was mostly in the kitchen, preparing and serving tons of food to all the relatives and friends.

So, twenty years later, when my son was turning three years old, I read advice in the parenting books: "Have the number of guests match the age the child is turning." "Birthday parties can be overwhelming." I listened while fellow parents told me, "they don't remember it anyway. Give 'em a cupcake and they're fine." "All those prizes are an expensive waste." "God, you don't really want all those people in your home, do you?" So I did what anyone raised by my mother would do. I IGNORED IT!!!!!!!!!!!!! My son had fifty people at his third birthday party, which had a Curious George theme, thematic games, thematic cake, a banana shaped pinata and a guest appearance by Curious George himself, courtesy of a costumed Daddy (who nearly fainted underneath all that fur). Since his third birthday, not a day goes by that my son doesn't make a suggestion in regard to his fourth birthday! I have never felt so appreciated in my life! I may not be able to top this last one, but I know we'll always remember, as a family, that we celebrated the day he was born with all our might.


I noticed, when I became a teacher, that some primary aged children had never been to an old fashioned birthday party, with Pin the Tail on the Donkey and Musical Chairs, goody bags and party hats. Nowadays many children celebrate their birthday at pizza places and museums and "Fun Zones," which are terrifically fun, but I still wanted my students to know the trappings of an "at home" style party. I also noticed, sadly, that children who came from other countries and didn't speak English well, or were bussed from far-off neighborhoods were often excluded from birthday celebrations. Have an UNBIRTHDAY PARTY storytime that everyone can partake in! Don't forget to send invitations a week before...getting an invitation is so exciting!

Unbirthday Stories

Miss Spider's Tea Party by David Kirk
Alfie Gives a Hand by Shirley Hughes
Happy Birthday, Jesse Bear! by Nancy Carlstrom
It's MY Birthday! by Pat Hutchins
Come to My Party by Judith Benet Richardson (check out Judith's jungle party ideas on the net!)
May I Bring a Friend? by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers
Benjamin's 365 Birthdays by Judy Barrett
Little Gorilla by Ruth Bornstein
A Letter to Amy by Ezra Jack Keats
Hooray, A Pinata! by Elisa Kleven
Dandelion by Don Freeman
Lyle and the Birthday Party by Bernard Waber
Serefina Under the Circumstances by Phyllis Theroux
Three Cheers for Catherine the Great by Cari Best
Albert's Birthday by Leslie Tryon
Surprise Party by William Wegman
Birthday Letters by Charlotte Pomerantz
How Many Candles? by Helen V. Griffith

  • Follow the storytime with party games like pin the tail on the donkey, hot potato, musical chairs or the grand prize game (see Pin the Tail on the Donkey and Other Games by Joanna Cole and Stephanie Calmenson for ideas).
  • Don't forget party blowers. For noise, you could also write fortunes and tuck them inside balloons, then blow them up. Give each child a balloon, everyone covers their ears, count to three and...get your fortune!
  • Zany party hats are easy to make by creating crowns out of corrugated bulletin board border and tucking brightly colored pipe cleaners into the corrugation. (I had some fourth graders go absolutely CRAZY with this! They wore their hats in our costume parade! Hi, Ms. Jackson's room, you know who you are!)
  • Don't forget the cake! If you are at school, many health codes require prepackaged food only; check with your administration. If you run the program out of your home, here are my two favorite unbirthday cakes:
    Just take favorite cake mix, prepare as directed and pour about half-full into plain ice cream cones. Bake according to package directions. Children like to ice and decorate these themselves, or put a scoop of ice cream of top!
    DUMP CAKE (Thanks to Patsy Oser for teaching me this one!)
    - 1 can cherry pie filling in heavy syrup
    - 1 can crushed pineapple in heavy syrup
    - 1 box yellow cake mix
    - 2 sticks melted butter (yes, I KNOW!)
    - 1/2 cup shredded coconut
    - 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
    Layer each item one on top of the other in the order above. (Do not prepare the cake mix; just empty the box on to the pile. Try to drizzle the butter over the cake mix.) Bake at 350 degrees for an hour. Serve warm in bowls with vanilla ice cream.
  • Sing! Try "The Unbirthday Song" from Disney's Alice in Wonderland or a little variation I wrote on the traditional birthday song:
    Happy birthday not mine,
    happy birthday not mine!
    Happy birthday, someone else's,
    Happy birthday not mine!

    Don't forget to e-mail me with your birthday party ideas and memories!

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