The best birthday books

Many authors have picked their favorite books about birthday and why they recommend each book.

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The Birthday Cake Mystery

By The Tjong-Khing,

Book cover of The Birthday Cake Mystery

The characters in this visual mystery can be followed on each spread in a myriad of storylines that surprise and delight. With so many complex plots, in order to truly appreciate this book, re-reading is a must! Whose birthday is it? What is the mystery? Why is it so difficult to make a cake for the party? Fiascos and disasters abound, a classic illustration style that would keep detail-loving kids reading for hours.

Who am I?

From the ages of 1-4, my son Finn deeply rooted himself into the detailed world of Richard Scarry. These books could be such slow reads that we only needed two of them for long airplane rides. Through Finn’s love of Scarry books, I began searching for more books that delighted with detail. And when I did not see my family’s bicycle-rich lifestyle reflected in books, I created Cycle City.

I wrote...

Cycle City: (City Books for Kids, Find and Seek Books)

By Alison Farrell,

Book cover of Cycle City: (City Books for Kids, Find and Seek Books)

What is my book about?

When little Etta the Elephant goes to her Aunt Ellen's house, she takes a journey through bicycle-filled Cycle City, a town filled with bikes of all kinds! At the end of the day, a special surprise awaits Etta—the most amazing bicycle parade imaginable.

Detail-rich illustrations in this fun seek-and-find book paint the colors of this unusual town where everyone rides some kind of bike—whether a penny-farthing, a two-wheeled unicycle, or a conference bike, everyone is on wheels! Packed with prompts and lots to see on every page, this is a sweet story for the sharpest of eyes.

The Eleventh Hour

By Graeme Base,

Book cover of The Eleventh Hour: A Curious Mystery

Really anything by Graeme Base could go on this list. He’s a master of packing exquisite detail into every bit of a picture, but The Eleventh Hour particularly holds a special place in my heart. As a child I spent hours searching every page, decoding musical notes, ciphers, and hieroglyphics, unraveling both visual and verbal riddles trying to figure out “whodunit”. I even roped my parents into helping me find the clues, and I feel like they were just as enthralled as I was. The beautiful illustrations and rhyming verse would make this a fun story on its own, but the hidden mystery embedded in every page makes this book a masterpiece. 

Who am I?

I’m Anne Lambelet, author-illustrator of Maria the Matador. The greatest compliment to any author-illustrator is that a child wants to keep spending time with your book after the first read-through is over. As an avid childhood reader who has maintained a passion for kid lit into my adulthood and my career, I’ve read a lot of picture books in my life, but the ones that have stuck with me are the ones that demanded a second, a third, even a fiftieth look. For that reason, I’ve chosen the following topic for my list of recommendations.

I wrote...

Maria the Matador

By Anne Lambelet,

Book cover of Maria the Matador

What is my book about?

Maria loves tea parties and dancing and wearing her hair in pigtails, but more than anything, Maria loves churros. So, when Maria sees a poster advertising a lifetime supply of churros to the winner of a bullfighting competition, she has to enter. Unfortunately, she isn’t as big, as fast, or as strong as the other matadors. But maybe those things don’t matter? Instead of strength and speed, what Maria really needs are courage, creativity, and most of all, kindness, to win the day and her beloved churros.

With stylized illustrations inspired by vintage Spanish posters, I’m hoping the story and the pictures in this book will keep kids coming back again and again. 

Ten Rules for Faking It

By Sophie Sullivan,

Book cover of Ten Rules for Faking It

Kudos to the author for creating a charming romance that brings readers deep inside crippling social anxiety. Taking it one step further, the novel shows how effectively someone—the heroine—can mask mental illness. Here is the heartbreaking reality: anxiety is easily hidden and often misread as anti-social behavior.

Who am I?

The two people I love most, my husband and my son, manage obsessive-compulsive disorder. Their struggles constantly inspire me and illustrate the courage it takes to navigate everyday life with an invisible disability. We don’t talk enough about that courage. Instead, society passes judgment and shares OCD jokes. There’s nothing funny about a chronic, potentially fatal illness that demands lifelong management. After all, we don’t laugh at diabetics, and people aren’t defined by their disabilities. (Think of Helen Keller’s achievements!) My passion is to create characters who chip away at the stigma, shame, and stereotypes of mental illness. They also prove the mantra, “You are not your disorder.” Amen.

I wrote...

The Unfinished Garden

By Barbara Claypole White,

Book cover of The Unfinished Garden

What is my book about?

Young widow Tilly Silverberg is rebuilding her life one potted-up plant at a time. Gardening is her salvation and her livelihood. Software developer James Nealy is on a solitary mission to reclaim his life from irrational obsessions (OCD). His plan? Employ Tilly to help him conquer his greatest fear: dirt. But Tilly, who’s heading back to her native England to diffuse a family emergency, isn’t for hire.

Tilly’s quietly happy to return to her childhood village, until she discovers her first love is unexpectedly single, her mother is scheming, and her best friend is keeping secrets. Then James appears. As they work together to rescue a garden, they share fears and hopes, and despite every reason against it, a tentative bond takes root and blossoms.

Big Red Lollipop

By Rukhsana Khan, Sophie Blackall (illustrator),

Book cover of Big Red Lollipop

In a heartfelt but also comic story, the eldest of three sisters in an immigrant family comes home from school with her first-ever birthday party invitation and much to her chagrin, her mom insists she must call the classmate to ask if she can bring along her annoying “I wanna go too!” sister. It’s hard having her sister with her at the party, and even worse when they get home.  I Iove the sibling rivalry, depicted so perfectly here, and the sibling love and family solidarity that goes with it.

Who am I?

I’m the author of picture books about feelings (I Hate Everyone), friendship (My Best Friend, Sometimes), and family (While Grandpa Napsand now, things that go (Bye, Car). I’ve also written about taking a bath and going for a walk. Wanting to be close and cared for, and at the same time, wanting to take even tentative steps toward independence is at the heart of the challenge of growing up for young children. Negotiating between the wish to belong and the wish to separate can be messy. The themes of connection, relationship, love, and ambivalence inspire much of my writing

I wrote...

Bye, Car

By Naomi Danis, Daniel Rieley (illustrator),

Book cover of Bye, Car

What is my book about?

Each new book is an adventure for me. Bye, Car began as a story of how children love to notice cars going by, and in a wonderful synergy with editor and art designer Annie Kubler and illustrator Daniel Rieley, became so much more. The simple sensory language that might mesmerize a younger child also represents a vision of a new day with greener means of getting around. The beautiful illustrations of urban scenes and transportation options offer opportunities for further conversation. In a modest way, this picture book represents my hope that we will learn to take better care of our environment for future generations.

11 Birthdays

By Wendy Mass,

Book cover of 11 Birthdays

If Groundhog Day-like stories are your preferred type of magic, then this book is for you. This story about two former friends who are forced to relive their birthdays because of a family curse was a huge inspiration to me early on in my writing career. It motivated me to try writing stories that mix reality with magic, and it continues to be one of my absolute favorite middle-grade reads to this day. Not only is it a story about magic gone wrong, but at its core, it’s a story about friendship, family, and second chances.

Who am I?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been in love with books that mix the real world with a bit of magic. I remember devouring novels like A Gift of Magic by Lois Duncan and The Secret Garden and imagining what I would do if my life suddenly became a tiny bit magical. When I became an author, it turned out those were also the sorts of stories I most loved telling. I think for me, the fun part is imagining what “everyday magic” would look like and what problems/opportunities it would create in an otherwise ordinary world.

I wrote...

The Wonder of Wildflowers

By Anna Staniszewski,

Book cover of The Wonder of Wildflowers

What is my book about?

Ten-year-old Mira must balance the loyalty she feels toward her family with the desire to be accepted by her new classmates in this powerful coming-of-age story about identity, community, and finding a place to call home—all with a sprinkle of magic.

Battle Bunny

By Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett, Matt Myers (illustrator)

Book cover of Battle Bunny

I love this concept of a boy turning a saccharine, boring picture book called Birthday Bunny into Battle Bunny. A pencil his weapon of choice, he attacks the book, driven by his creativity, and turns it into a book he actually wants to read. A daring idea from the author, this hilarious and engaging book is something any young boy can relate to.

Who am I?

Since I was a child I’ve loved comedy. Whether it’s Daffy Duck, the Pink Panther movies, or a Carl Hiaasen novel, I like to laugh and make people laugh. I grew up drawing cartoons, and as a Disney animator I learned the importance of creating characters that audiences could believe and empathize with. Humor has no geographic, religious, or racial boundaries – the human condition is universal, and humor speaks to us all, regardless of language. I strive to write and draw characters that connect with readers and then put them in silly, odd but believable situations to extract the maximum entertainment.

I wrote...


By Frans Vischer,

Book cover of Fuddles

What is my book about?

Fat, flaccid, and totally spoiled by his family, feline Fuddles lives a life of eating, sleeping, and the occasional litter-box trip. When he finally opts for adventure, Fuddles discovers he’s not allowed outside. Obsessed with going out and fighting the foes he knows await, Fuddles initiates a “strict exercise regime.” Spying an open front door, he darts outside and loses no time leaping after birds and chasing squirrels. Weighed down by his tubbiness, scared and lonely, and missing his family, Fuddles learns the hard way there’s no place like home.

The colorful comical illustrations trace Fuddles’ journey. Indolent, irascible, and utterly irresistible, Fuddles is the undisputed focus of every scene in this hilarious reminder to stick with a good thing when you’ve got it.

Jenny's Birthday Book

By Esther Averill,

Book cover of Jenny's Birthday Book

This is an endearing book with soothingly simple charm. It is a tale of a shy cat celebrating her birthday with a gang of cat friends set in 1950s Greenwich Village. In this quiet book, the sublime high point of action is a double page spread of the cat celebrants earnestly dancing “The Sailor’s Hornpipe” in a moonlit Washington Square Park.

Who am I?

I especially love books for children that capture city life in a way that feels both unique and child scaled. I have set most of my books in cities because I love the story possibilities that exist in what are almost entirely human-made environments. Paradoxically, city settings make any kind of connection to the natural world or animals even more important. On this list are all books I feel show a particularly special aspect of city life for children.

I wrote...

Red Again

By Barbara Lehman,

Book cover of Red Again

What is my book about?

When a young boy discovers a forgotten book on a city street, it opens a window to another world just as real as his own. But what happens when the two worlds collide? This imaginative companion to the Caldecott Honor-winning The Red Book works in a continuous loop, showing us that stories never really end.  And that just maybe someone is waiting for a chance to visit us, through the magic of a book.

One Word from Sophia

By Jim Averbeck, Yasmeen Ismail (illustrator),

Book cover of One Word from Sophia

I loved this sweet, funny, feel-good book with its unusual, intelligent characters. Sophia is a very determined girl (with a wonderful Afro ponytail) who won’t stop pursuing her One True Desire—to have a giraffe! Her father (businessman), her mother (lawyer), her uncle (politician), and her grandmother (who is very strict), all have excellent reasons for saying no to all of her arguments, including the fact that she uses too many words. (Teaching her 3 new words along the way.) Despite compelling slideshows, graphs, pie charts, and foot rubs, she has no success, until…

The illustrations are delightful, colourful, and comical, bringing the characters to life, including the hard-won Giraffe. If you are a word lover like me, you will also love this book!

Who am I?

I’m a semi-retired music teacher and grandmother of two. When my kids were little, we would devour books like they were delicious candy, reading our favourites over and over again. I still love reading out loud, using various inflections, accents, and voices for the different characters. I’ve read hundreds of children’s books and the ones I enjoy most have a great message, are fun to read out loud, and also make me laugh. And they must have beautiful, colourful illustrations! My first book is a spoken word piece from my WCMA-nominated CD, Too Much Work To Do. It’s been asking me to dream it into a book for years! 

I wrote...

Please Don't Go in the Dryer!

By Judy Lea, Anita Ho (illustrator),

Book cover of Please Don't Go in the Dryer!

What is my book about?

A young girl with an active imagination (shall we say “overactive”?) is worried about her very cute kitten who doesn’t listen and keeps getting into everything! With increasingly precarious (and comical) possible outcomes (stuck in the dryer, mistaken for socks, used as dental floss by the Sock Monster!), this is a highly entertaining spoken word piece with lots of repetition, and is perfect for early readers, ELL readers or anyone who loves to read out loud.

“Young readers (and their parents) will laugh out loud at this whimsical cautionary tale about a mischievous kitten and its overly imaginative owner. The delightful text and beautiful, hilarious illustrations will make this a “read it again!” favourite”.

Much Too Much Birthday (Maud the Koala)

By J.E. Morris,

Book cover of Much Too Much Birthday (Maud the Koala)

The title explains the way children often feel…much too much! We tend to overdo it when wanting to give our children too much of most things. Children become overwhelmed as Maud did. This book is a wonderful way to show children how this can happen and help them understand more isn’t always better and sometimes a break is best. I especially like the note to caregivers in the back.

Who am I?

Often, people don’t understand the emotions of a child. The care and keeping of children have been my life focus as a mother of five, 4-H leader, Kindergarten aide, religious education teacher, and owner of Whalen’s Country Childcare. I hold dear the awe and wonder seen in the eyes of a child and hope to forever be inspired by the sight. Since my new book, Little Red Rolls Away was released, I have presented at schools, libraries, appeared in newspapers, magazines, and been featured on CBS Good Day Sacramento. Endorsements include filmmaker Joey Travolta, Founder and Creative Director, Inclusion Films, a company that aims to teach the art of filmmaking to people with developmental disabilities.

I wrote...

Little Red Rolls Away

By Linda Whalen, Jennifer E. Morris (illustrator),

Book cover of Little Red Rolls Away

What is my book about?

When Little Red Barn wakes one morning, he finds his animal friends have gone. He's empty and alone. And then big noisy machines lift him up and put him on a truck. As Little Red is transported across the countryside, down a major river, and through city streets, he feels anxious and a little afraid. Where is he going? Who will be there when he reaches his destination? When Little Red does finally reach his new home in a surprising location, he finds things are even better than before.

While entertaining children, the story of the little barn's relocation and adjustment to a new place will reassure and comfort young readers facing changes in their own lives.

Molly Morningstar A Doll for Me

By Andrea Coke, M. Fernanda Orozco (illustrator),

Book cover of Molly Morningstar A Doll for Me: A Fun Story About Diversity, Inclusion, and a Sense of Belonging

I always appreciate children’s books that are diverse. Children everywhere should be given the opportunity to see themselves in the stories they read. It’s important for adults to understand that what a child takes away from a storybook character can become a life-altering emotion. I found that emotion in this book. Molly Morningstar is a little girl with a problem: She can’t find a doll that looks like her! Sure, the dolls all look like her classmates, but not one looks like Molly. In refusing to settle for just any other doll, Molly finds the perfect solution to the problem. What if she could make a doll? I love the emotion, fortitude, and creativity shown by our shining star, Molly Morningstar.

Who am I?

As a former teacher, and grandmother of 13 now-grownup kids, I can’t begin to count the total number of children’s books I’ve read. A gazillion maybe? I have published 5 children’s books of my own and have read them to hundreds of classes all over the U.S. I have been an editor of children’s books for about 10 years and feel honored every time an author hands their precious manuscript over to me for assistance. I’ve read so, so many amazing books. It was difficult to name just a handful, but these books spoke to me, evoking emotions that stayed with me long after the last i was dotted and t was crossed. I hope you will feel that as well.

I wrote...

The Knot Fairy: Winner of 7 Children's Picture Book Awards

By Bobbie Hinman, Kristi Bridgeman (illustrator),

Book cover of The Knot Fairy: Winner of 7 Children's Picture Book Awards

What is my book about?

The Knot Fairy was my first picture book. It blossomed out of love for my grandchildren (and their messy hair) and was a story that had to be told. You see, everyone knows her. She visits children everywhere…And she just likes to tangle their hair! Aha! So she’s the one! Soon my ideas morphed into a series of fairy books, each featuring the pranks of a different mischievous fairy. My mantra became, “Who better to blame it on than a fairy?”

As my first book remains near and dear to my heart, I have had the pleasure of meeting many other first-time authors, each with a story that is near and dear to their heart. The following books are among the best.

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