Friday, January 17, 2014

The Night Before My Birthday

Earlier this fall, Frances and Gloria were thrilled to get The Night Before First Grade and give away a copy to a blog reader!) as part of Natasha Wing's blog tour to celebrate its publication.  So they cheered when we were offered the chance to review The Night Before My Birthday!  Honestly, although we have had the book for a few weeks, I hadn't been able to read it all the way through more than once.  Gloria has carried it to bed with her many nights, and I've had to rescue it from her clutches as she falls asleep.  And I'm not surprised - this series of books is very popular both in her preschool and in her preschool's Scholastic orders too.  Gloria also loves poring over the back inside cover, where there are pictures of the other sixteen books in the Night Before series.  Each of the books in the series is based on "'Twas the Night Before Christmas".  But Wing uses the poem as a springboard to celebrate the most important events in a child's life.

And of course, the most important event in a child's life happens once each year - their birthday!  As the narrator of this story says "It may not be a holiday, but it's the best day of the year."  The unidentified child is helping their parents get ready for their birthday party as the excitement builds.  They go to bed, and "visions of birthday gifts danced in my head."  When the family awakes, they celebrate early and often, beginning with breakfast.  Then party preparations continue.  Suddenly, though, things take a turn for the worse.  There is a loud crash from the kitchen, and ice cream has spilled all over the floor.  Catastrophe threatens, but the parents come to the rescue.  Dad and child head out to the store while Mom finishes getting ready.  And when they arrive home, there is one final birthday surprise - a party full of guests to help the birthday child celebrate.  Hooray!

My biggest question when preparing to read this book was how could Natasha Wing sustain the poetry of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"?  Incredibly, she does.  The rhythm of the story is natural, and perfectly suited to the birthday celebration.  The plot doesn't feel Christmasy at all, and that is one of Wing's biggest talents in my mind.  She keeps each book feeling unique and focused on that particular celebration.  And yet there are enough indicators in the text to remind readers of the original poem.  Frances was reading this book aloud to herself last week, and came across the stanza "Then out in the kitchen there arose such a clatter.  We ran down the hallway to see what was the matter."  She looked up at me and said "Oh, I forgot.  This is like 'The Night Before Christmas'".  So the comparison is not overbearing at all.

Something that was unusual about this addition to the series is how Wing and Wummer include the reader in this story.  Wing has carefully crafted this story to not mention gender or any identifying characteristics of the narrator.  She also doesn't mention age until the very end of the book, where the reader can choose to draw their own age on the cake, making it even more interactive.  My girls remembered past birthday celebrations as they read, and wanted to record their upcoming ages on the cake, so it definitely drew them in.

Wummer does an incredible job of showing only pieces of the birthday child without making it really obvious that she is trying to obscure their identity.  Some times the illustration is shown from the child's point of view, with their hands reaching out for a birthday card, or on the cover, where they are opening the door to their party guests.  When the child is going to bed, and wearing pajamas just a smidge too small, the illustration shows a slightly bulging stomach with pajama top stretched tight.  It is actually difficult to describe the clever way Wummer designed these illustrations, but they just work.  I had to re-read the book twice before I noticed that the birthday child is never completely shown.

It is a great addition to the series, and one that is very popular with the Murray girls, just like The Night Before First GradeThanks again to Natasha Wing for appearing.  For other stops on her The Night Before my Birthday Tour please check

The Night Before My Birthday. Natasha Wing; illustrated by Amy Wummer.Grosset & Dunlap, 2014.

Sent by the author for review as part of a blog tour.

1 comment:

  1. I think the illustrator did a great job keeping the pictures gender neutral. Glad you noticed!