How to Have a Birthday by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Cindy Derby


How to Have a Birthday by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Cindy Derby. Candlewick Press, 2021. 9781536207415

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover picture book

Genre: Realistic fiction

What did you like about the book? “The one rule for birthdays is that everybody gets one – though just one – every year.” This tribute to every kid’s favorite holiday emphasizes the variety of ways in which people celebrate their birthdays, perhaps with crowns, cake, gifts, or songs, but most importantly, always, a wish for the year to come.  The celebrations of three children and their families are shown in alternating scenes throughout the book.  There are parties, decorations, small family get-togethers, and fun, family traditions such as marking height on a wall, which will undoubtedly invite the audience to share their own favorite things.

This is a lovely and gentle celebration that focuses less on presents and more on being present.  The narrative is in the 2nd person, which enables the author to speak directly to the reader, as well as to the characters in the illustrations, about the joy that awaits them on their special day.  Despite the title, it is clear that the only correct way to have a birthday is the way you do.  Vivid illustrations of the celebrants and their activities add to the fun, across seasons and different settings.   

Anything you did not like about the book?  No

 To whom would you recommend this book? Primary grade teachers will appreciate this as a read aloud to remind their students that every family has different traditions when it comes to birthdays (might work especially well at the start of a school year when establishing classroom norms).  It would make a lovely baby shower or 1st birthday gift, which would grow with the recipient.

Who should buy this book? Preschools, public and elementary school libraries

Where would you shelve it?  Picture books

Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  No

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City:  Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.

Date of review: October 14, 2021

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