Let’s Celebrate! Birthday Books

The book cover shows the title with a tabby kitten, Bernice, beneath. She is wearing a blouse and a peach jumper and has her hands on her hips. A green party hat lies on the floor next to her.

 By Laci R.
 
A favorite class of mine to conduct at the library is called The Unbirthday Party. Everyone has one birthday, but all the other days of the year are reason enough to commemorate your unbirthday! The class is a place for everyone to celebrate by enjoying themed books, songs, and party games/activities. The world might observe birthdays a little differently right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate at all. These two picture books, personal favorites of mine, can even become part of the celebration when given as gifts to be enjoyed for years to come. 
 
Bernice Gets Carried Away by Hannah Harrison
It’s a dreary day, and the weather suits Bernice’s mood just fine. This cat gets even grumpier as the forest birthday party festivities begin. Waiting for your slice of cake is like wondering whether you’ve hit the lottery. Will you get a corner piece? A frosting rose?… or a plain white square from the middle, like Bernice? When the drinks are distributed, everyone gets ice cold strawberry-melon soda. Too bad all that’s left for Bernice is prune-grapefruit… and it’s warm. Bernice doesn’t even get a turn hitting the pinata before someone else breaks it open and candy flies everywhere. Even then, all that Bernice can find is a gumball that someone stepped on. Bernice decides enough is enough and takes matters into her own hands. When the balloons are brought out, Bernice grabs them all and gets lifted into the sky. She reaches a brooding rain cloud and decides to share some of her vibrant balloon bouquet. Everything immediately starts to look and feel brighter for Bernice and those around her. Giving balloons away one by one to friends who need them along the way, Bernice makes it back down to the ground. With an improved mood and lots of sharing, the party ends in the sunshine with friends. This story is a favorite due to the relatability of getting the undesired cake slice, the expressive faces of all the animal partygoers, the stunning color palette, and the opportunity to talk about feelings and emotions in a natural way.  

The book cover shows a little boy, his animal guests in party hats, his birthday cake, and multicolored balloons and pennants.

The Backwards Birthday Party by Tom Chapin 
At the backwards birthday party, everything is out of whack. A wild pack of guests arrive and say “Good-bye,” with the cake served soon after. Clothes are on inside out, someone is heating up the ice cream, and the donkey is the one pinning the tail today. The longer the party goes, the earlier it gets: with time running backwards, the party ends before it starts. The birthday boy says “Hello,” pushes the guests out the door, and returns to his room once more. The silliness in this book is wholesome and delightful. There’s never a shortage of cheer throughout this unconventional day as friends all come together and have a blast. The story is told in a rhyming melodic tone because the words are lyrics to a song! Sheet music can be found on the inside of the front and back cover.   

Want to have a backwards-themed birthday celebration for the child in your life? Try writing the letters or words on the cake backwards, hang non-helium balloons with ribbon from the ceiling, and invite guests to dress with their clothes inside out.
 
Birthdays (and unbirthdays) are cause for festivity. The great thing about any celebration is that it can look however you like; I just wouldn’t suggest heating up the ice cream! I hope these stories make it into your reading routine, as they’re sure to be favorites enjoyed any day of the year.   

Laci is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS. They love a wide variety of music, spending time in the garden, Halloween, cats, and crafting. Their “to read” list is always full of graphic novels and picture books. 
 

Rainbow Reads for Children, Part Two

The cover shows two pairs, each with a rabbit and a chick. The chick in the most prominent pair is vocalizing the word "Neither" in a speech bubble, referring to the baby animal in the foreground, who is "neither" rabbit nor chick. but a blend of both, with the legs, beak, and wings of a chick and the ears and tail of a rabbit.

 Reviews by Laci R.

Welcome back! It may be July but I’m still thrilled to share some more of my favorite LGBTQ+ picture books with you. Please be sure to check out Part One of my suggestions so you can enjoy the full list.  

Maiden & Princess by Daniel Haack is a modern fairy tale about a strong and brave maiden invited to attend the Prince’s royal ball. She isn’t terribly excited about attending, but with a little nudging from her mother, she decides to go. The maiden makes quite the impression on the guests and even finds love when she meets the Princess. One of my favorite things about this book how it truly celebrates lesbian love, as none of the characters respond with “it’s forbidden” rhetoric. This bedtime favorite offers a lovely alternative to the predictable royal courting fairy tales. Pair with Prince & Knight by the same author.

We Love Someone We Sing to Them / Cuando Amamos Cantamos by Ernesto Martinez offers a heartwarming, bilingual story of a young boy who loves another boy. He shares this with his father and together they write the young boy’s crush a traditional serenata. The lyrical prose and whimsical art made me cry with beautiful depictions of supportive family relationships, cultural traditions, and falling in love for the first time. The lyrics to the songs are words you feel deep in your soul, as they solidify the undeniable power associated with expressing love through music (a personal safe haven of mine). “He says that gardens like mine, even through droughts, have persisted. He says that gardens like mine have always existed.” 

I’m always drawn to stories that celebrate not fitting into a certain mold based on societal views and perceived norms. A few great examples include: 

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall tells about a crayon who was labeled incorrectly at the factory and so is mistaken for the wrong color. This label confuses the crayon in question as he clearly draws every picture in blue. Many other crayons try to help him be red, but no matter how creative a suggestion, it doesn’t work. After a new friend arrives, things start to feel different for Red as he realizes he’s been blue all along and can live a fulfilling life just the way he is. A life where he doesn’t have to force himself to be something he’s not, just because of the packaging he was given. A great look at gender identity.  
 
Neither by Airlie Anderson takes places in the land of This and That, where the only two things that exist are blue bunnies and yellow birds. What happens when a green egg hatches revealing a new friend who isn’t quite a bunny or a bird? After struggling to fit in with each group, Neither decides to journey to find a new home and happens upon the Land of All – a place with many colors and shapes representing creatures of all kinds. This book does a great job at promoting diversity and teaching that differences can unite us. It’s also a wonderful way to introduce the topic of being non-binary.  

Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian features two worms who are in love and excited to get married. As they plan the wedding, all the other bugs and insects in town are ready to help and give their opinions. They offer endless suggestions based on tradition. Who will wear the dress? What about the tux? It’s quickly decided that those details don’t matter. All that matters is that worm loves worm and, in their love, they create a new way of having a wedding that is right for them. Seeing a child cheering for these worms through the light in their eyes, alone, makes it worth reading aloud.  
 
I hope these titles help to introduce or continue the conversation about the LGBTQ+ community and all the reasons they should celebrate and be celebrated this month and always. Books that show LGBTQ+ characters in everyday settings diversify your reading collection while teaching compassion and love. I certainly wish more books like this were around when I was a kid, but I’m thankful to report that some of the mentioned books have helped me, as an adult, solidify layers of my own queerness. I’m learning every day how to embrace who I am and what it means to be me. I see myself in these books, and that is invaluable. There is so much joy to be found in being true to oneself, which is always something worth celebrating.  

Laci is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS. They love a wide variety of music, spending time in the garden, Halloween, cats, and crafting. Their “to read” list is always full of graphic novels and picture books.

Rainbow Reads for Children, Part One

The book cover shows a multicultural, multiracial group of adults and children holding up a rainbow sign with the title.

By Laci R.

June is LGBTQ+ Pride month, and it’s a time to celebrate all the beautiful identities and colors of the rainbow. Luckily, many vibrant books and stories can help you do so. Representation is incredibly important. Aside from the sheer joy and pleasure of getting to see yourself in books and stories, it promotes inclusivity and begins vital conversations with the children in your life about the history of the LGBTQ+ community and queer characters. Reading books with queer mention needs to be paired with open, safe, and informative conversation so compassion can flourish and curiosities can be sparked.  
 
I have chosen several books to share with you. It was difficult to narrow my list, but having many more resources available that feature characters in the LGBTQ+ community is such an amazing and liberating phenomenon.
 
I’ll start with some of my favorite non-fiction books:  

Stonewall: A Building, an Uprising, a Revolution by Rob Sanders (picture book) gives us a unique perspective on an essential civil rights story. The building itself narrates the story of how the police raided the Stonewall Inn located in New York City early in the morning on June 28, 1969. This wasn’t the first raid that took place, but things were different this time. A protest occurred full of members of the LGBTQ+ community in and around Stonewall Inn as demands of equal rights and justice filled the air. This movement continues even now, as I type these words.

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders (picture book) tells about social activist Harvey Milk and how the gay pride flag, designed by Gilbert Baker, came to be created. It shows Milk as he is elected as one of the first openly gay people in political office and follows his fight for LGBTQ+ rights and freedom. Together, Milk and Baker create a symbol of hope- the rainbow flag. It’s a symbol you still see today proudly displayed all over the world. 

Pair this story with Sewing the Rainbow by Gayle Pitman to see a different perspective and learn other details about the rainbow flag’s creation. Need a follow up activity? Ask the child in your life to make their own flag! One that represents them and what makes them special. Encourage them to share with you and be sure to do the same. 
 
Please note: These books should be shared with the understanding that they offer an introduction to these major events and should be supplemented with additional information and conversation around the topics.  
 
Be sure to also check out Gay & Lesbian History For Kids: The Century Long Struggle for LGBT Rights by Jerome Pohlen, A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities by Mady G and They, She, He, Me: Free To Be by Maya Gonzalez. These books contain excellent information and guidance for understanding a wide variety of identities. 
 
When it comes to picture books, I wish I could write about every single one. I decided to share a sampling of those that are well loved and ones that became unforgettable from the moment I read them. Here are a couple for you to look into, with more coming in Part Two of my LGBTQ+ recommendations for children and families.

This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman became an instant favorite. This rhyming story invites you to attend a Pride parade and meet all the wonderful people. Every page exudes joy and pure love. I absolutely adore the illustrations by Kristyana Litten. They are brimming with color and depict an undeniable energy bursting with flair. A note to parents and caregivers is included that provides information on how to discuss sexual orientation and gender identity with children in age-appropriate ways. You’ll also find a reading guide full of facts about LGBTQ+ history and culture.  

When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff covers a lot of ground and will surely resonate with transgender children. It offers reassurance about becoming an older sibling all while celebrating some of the many transitions experienced by a family. When born, everyone thought Aidan was a girl. He was given a pretty name and his room and clothes looked like that of girls he knew. However, none of this felt right to him and changes were needed. Aidan’s parents offer endless support as he transitions to living in a way that allows him to flourish and thrive. In doing so, Aidan learns what it takes to be the best older brother he can be: the ability to love with your whole self. I also feel the need to mention that I wish I could share a wardrobe with Aidan because that little guy sure is stylin’.  

I hope these titles will make it into your home, classroom, gift list, or anywhere else that needs a bright rainbow. I invite you to continue learning about LGBTQ+ materials for children by joining me for Part Two, where we’ll take a look at more of my favorite picture books. Let’s keep this celebration going!

Laci is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS. They love a wide variety of music, spending time in the garden, Halloween, cats, and crafting. Their “to read” list is always full of graphic novels and picture books.