Can any birthday be a bad birthday? Late December birthday girls and boys will empathize with Sam in this smart, modern picture book.
Sam’s birthday stinks like “the smelliest garbage in the whole world.” His birthday is Dec. 27, so close to Christmas that he gets combination birthday/Christmas gifts and other people’s reject gifts as his birthday presents. He doesn’t get to celebrate with his friends because they’re busy spending the holiday with their families. His siblings have enviable May and October birthdays—perfect times for celebrating, thanks to the uncrowded calendar and beautiful weather. Sam has tried celebrating his half birthday, but it’s just not the same. So, in a funk, Sam finally admits to his teacher, Mrs. Charles, that his upcoming birthday stinks. By this time, readers will really feel for him—and really like him, too. Marinelli’s (Falling from the Moon, 2009) concise, snappy storytelling and Hagen’s photo-style color illustrations create a strong, realistic character in under 30 pages. Marinelli also nails the voice and mindset of an 8-year-old boy and manages to build a story around his complaint without making him seem like a whiny brat. Mrs. Charles certainly understands Sam’s frustration: Her birthday is Dec. 25; she’s never had a party on her birthday, and she knows all about “combo” presents and birthday gifts wrapped in red-and-green paper. But she finds joy in her birthday and helps Sam find joy in his, too. He admits he enjoys the snowball fights with cousins and cocoa with tons of marshmallows. Still, he’d rather have a different sort of birthday, and Mrs. Charles helps make it happen: “His mother made a special cake with a football on it and all his presents were wrapped in birthday paper. And, he didn’t get one waffle maker or boring sweater. For two hours that night, no one said ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Merry Christmas.’ ” In the end, Sam expresses his appreciation to Mrs. Charles with a touching—and particularly 8-year-old–like—phone call to say “Merry birthday.”
A charming holiday read that gifts a feel-good smile.