A different sort of birthday celebration is at the bighearted center of this picture book.
Mutanu lives in an African orphanage. She and the other children are excited about the arrival of a special day when all of them are celebrated with a birthday party. This inclusive, joyful day allows those children (including Mutanu) who don’t know their actual birth dates to be celebrated alongside those who do, and as endnotes explain, it also helps give them legal standing as Kenyan citizens. After the children do daily chores, visitors arrive, presents are distributed, and Mutanu’s most anticipated moment comes with cake and the singing of the birthday song. In a sensitive acknowledgement of complex circumstances, Mutanu’s beloved grandmother is one of the visitors, and other children welcome extended family members, too. Text and colorful art with expressive line combine to depict the orphanage as a place of care and safety for the children, who still have ties to family despite significant losses and difficulties. What emerges isn’t a case of sugarcoated hardship but a story that acknowledges the harsh realities of many children’s lives while also finding the grace within them. Endnotes ground the story in its inspiration from a real orphanage in Kenya while also explaining to more privileged Western children how someone might not know his or her birthday.
Both deeply important and purely joyful. (Picture book. 4-8)