How to Have a Birthday – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Birthdays! A favorite topic of pretty much every person under the age of 30, and maybe for some over the age of 30 as well. But How to Have a Birthday comes at the idea of celebrating from an unusual perspective, a “how-to” voice that leaves much open to interpretation.

Text ©️Mary Lyn Ray Illustration ©️Cindy Derby

On the morning of your birthday,

you can tell already that the day is not like others.

That waking moment of anticipation shines, shimmers, and explodes off the page, and the bright red angled line leads the reader to turn the page to see what’s next. Something unexpected. The house appears empty, quiet, and the child receives their first present: anticipation and wonder at what the day may bring. I LOVE how this is seen as the “first” present. Because anticipation is so very delicious, it is its own gift.

What follows are a series of possibilities, some unexpected, like making up a song to sing to yourself, or as in the spread below,

…you can try out

how it’s different being one year older.

Text ©️Mary Lyn Ray Illustration ©️Cindy Derby

The ending asserts that the possibilities are endless, possibilities that are “all yours to unwrap.”

This lyrically-written concept book may help kids see that what they do for themselves on their birthday can be just as important and exciting as what others may do for them. That they have a certain agency. Sometimes knowing that the whole day is yours is the best present of all.

But then, of course, there’s CAKE!

Regular readers will know I’m a huge fan of Cindy Derby’s illustration style, filled with magic, whimsy, and fabulous colors, it’s perfect for birthday celebrations! Her illustration note says that she created this book “on the road in a camper van with watercolor, pastels, coloring pencils, gouache, and a few sprinkles.”

Cindy shares some amazing videos of her process on her website.

There’s also a cool image from her instagram post where she’s painting a spread for this book inside her camper van.


Make a list of things (that are not something you can wrap) that you could give to yourself on your birthday. For someone else’s birthday, what is something you could give to them that wouldn’t need to be wrapped?

Write your own birthday song and sing it to the tune of Happy Birthday or some other favorite melody.

Make your own paper birthday cake box. (Have an adult help with the exacto knife part.)

Title: How to Have a Birthday

Author: Mary Lyn Ray

Illustrator: Cindy Derby

Publisher: Candlewick, 2021

Themes: birthdays, anticipation, making your own fun

Ages: pre-K – 3rd

For more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s website.

12 thoughts on “How to Have a Birthday – Perfect Picture Book Friday

  1. Patricia Tilton says:

    What a lovely, heartfelt review of this book. I have a copy and look forward to reading it. Enjoyed watching Cindy’s videos! Her artwork is beautiful and perfect for this book! Thanks for sharing today!

  2. Sue Heavenrich says:

    Well THIS sounds fun! I like the idea of wrapping intangible things for your birthday… but more than that, I like cake!

Please feed the chickens...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.