Jenny's 2010 Picks
It's My Birthday
by Helen Oxenbury
Here’s a story worth celebrating, now in a padded board book edition. “It’s my birthday and I’m going to make a cake,” says a blond preschooler in overalls, who could be a boy or girl. Every child, boy or girl, loves a birthday and a cake—and Helen Oxenbury’s gentle watercolor pictures allows all children to see themselves as hero of this tale. And it is a tale of many heroes!
First the child seeks help from a chicken: “It’s my birthday and I’m going to make a cake. I need some eggs.” The chicken obliges (“I’ll get you some eggs”), and the birthday cake–maker next requests some flour from a bear cub. The cub gets a hand from Mom, standing in her check-tiled kitchen, then the cub carries the chicken along as the aspiring chef visits the cat and requests butter and milk (“I’ll get you some butter and milk,” says the feline, who sneaks into the fridge, climbing on a shelf). On the left of each double-page spread, the child explains the mission, the ingredients secured so far, and asks for what’s needed. On the right, a neatly framed scene shows how the animal fulfills the favor. Soon a pig with “a pinch of salt,” a dog with a bag of sugar, and a monkey who has climbed a tree to pick some cherries for topping the cake, all follow the birthday child back to the table, where each adds his or her ingredient, one at a time, to a green striped mixing bowl that the child stirs with a wooden spoon. There’s a moment of suspense when the child starts to exit with the baked cake: “Thank you, everybody. Now all of you can…” With a turn of the page, we see that the birthday dessert will be enjoyed by all (“…help me eat the cake!”). There’s even a recipe at the end, and a final caution that adults should be present when baking occurs (that is the one scene Helen Oxenbury does not picture – the hot oven).
What a delightful antidote to the Little Red Hen’s story, in which no one will help her harvest or thresh the wheat, nor grind it into flour (“Not I,” says the dog; “Not I,” says the cat), and therefore they do not get to eat the bread. Here everyone helps, and everyone feasts on the fruits of their collective labors.