DIY Kids’ Birthday Parties: Looking for Inspiration

We are about to embark on Silly Season: that time of year when my little chickens hatched, one after the other, in April, May and June.  Three months of birthday planning and parties are ahead of me, and I am already behind!

I really enjoy hosting the kids’ parties at home.  Beth-Anne recently posted this list of tips from Alyson Schafer to our facebook page (via The Mabelhood) about hosting a party for kids at home.  It’s got lots of sound advice, and I especially liked how Schafer spelled out present etiquette: decide ahead of time if you will open presents at the party or after.  If you open them during the party, make sure the birthday child thanks each guest individually; if you open them after the party, make sure the birthday child sends a thank you note acknowledging the gift.  I like my kids to open the gifts after the guests have gone home, and I’m glad to know that it calls for an extra thank-you.

In the past, we’ve had parties at which we put on plays, parties with a fencing instructor, and, of course, sleepovers that featured very little sleep.  Beth-Anne has hosted a fabulous Ninja Party, and Carol has written about a horrible birthday party and the perils of trying to make everybody happy.

As I cast about for ideas for this year’s crop of parties, I keep coming back to the loot bags for inspiration.  I love putting loot bags together, and I usually find a book that works with the theme of the party: knights, magic, fairy tales.  My kids make bookmarks with a drawing and a note of thanks, and that goes into the book with each guest’s name printed at the top.  Add a sweet treat, bundle it up, and you’re done!

This year I’m putting the cart before the horse and looking at books that have inspired me recently and that could give me a theme:

charlieCharlie’s Dirt Day

written by Andrew Larsen

illustrated by Jacqueline Hudon-Verrelli

We could get the kids to paint flower pots, fill them with dirt and a plant and send them home with a good read and a green thumb.  Between the painting of the pot and the planting of the plant, there could be the kind of birthday chaos that is best enjoyed with a short shelf life.

lifeLife Doesn’t Frighten Me

by Maya Angelou

Paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat

We’ve been twice to see the Basquiat exhibit at the AGO.  Both times, Littlest and Middlest got busy getting their art on.  The first time they sketched, the second time they sculpted, getting inspiration from the art on the walls.  We could do an art activity and get the kids to create their own signature motif, like Basquiat’s crown.

 

birdsOur Woodland Birds

written and illustrated by Matt Sewell

I can’t get enough of Matt Sewell’s bird illustrations.  They are an amazing balance of being entirely his own style while being reliable enough representations to help you identify the bird.  Littlest and I sat down yesterday to paint, a luxury afforded by the slowly tapering end of hockey season, and he painted an homage to Matt Sewell.  We could give the kids sketch books and pencils and make bird art.

 

gavin's bird

 

 

 

 

What We’re Reading Kids

Here are our recommendations for some great reads over the March Break and beyond.

From Beth-Anne

imgres-1

Don’t Let the Pigeon Finish This Activity Book by Mo Willems

My middle son received this book as a Christmas gift, and hasn’t put it down since. Every night I hear him giggling in his room reading the latest funnies that this Pigeon is up to, and in the morning he emerges from his bunk-bed fort with a newly completed activity. If you have a Mo Willems fan on your hands, this is a sure-fire best bet. I can’t help but think if you’re about to jet off somewhere this book would make for a welcome addition to the carry-on.

imgres-2

This is the Greatest Place: The Forbidden City and the World of Small Animals by Brian Tse, Illustrated by Alice Mak, Translated by Ben Wang

This beautifully illustrated book teaches children about ancient Chinese culture and customs. Through a series of adventures, the children learn about how delicate the balance is between humanity, animals and nature. If a trip to China is not anywhere in your near future, this book is the next best thing.

imgres-3

I Love You Near and Far by Marjorie Blain Parker, Illustrated by Jed Henry

Sometimes, the people we love the most are not an arm’s length away. I often think of friends whose families are separated by an ocean
and I wonder if I would ever have the fortitude to parent my boys while my husband is on a months long military mission, like my good friend. That’s what makes I Love You Near and Far such a special book, it reminds us that cousins, uncles, aunts, friends, grandparents and even moms and dads can love each other regardless of where they call home.

imgres-4

The Possible Police by Wylde Scott, Illustrations by Hannah K. Shuping

Along the lines of The Little Engine That Could, The Possible Police encourages children to be true to themselves and follow their dreams regardless of the naysayers. The rhyme is catchy and the text flowery but it’s the whimsical illustrations that are simply captivating.

imgres-5Recipe for Adventure: Paris! by Giada De Laurentiis

My oldest one is a bit of a reluctant reader when it comes to fiction. Give him a sports magazine or a baseball stats book and he’s set, but ask him to choose a novel to read, and that’s when the excuses start. He had some success with the Canadian Flyer series (a Canadian spin on the popular Magic Treehouse series), Jake Maddox and his sports tales are a favourite and now we can officially add celebrity chef turned children’s author Giada De Laurentiis’s Recipe for Adventure series to the “approved” list. With the first adventure to Naples behind him, he’s moved on to Paris. The stories are engaging and light-hearted without any of the silliness that I loathe to find in books marketed to emerging readers. Emilia and Alfie are in the City of Lights and have discovered pain au chocolat, crepes and escargot. My son is adventurous when it comes to food and I’ve made him a deal to follow up each book with a cooking session (recipes are included) and a date night at an aptly themed restaurant.

From Nathalie

Charlie’s Dirt Day

written by Andrew Larsen

illustrated by Jacqueline Hudon-Verrelli

See You Next Year

written by Andrew Larsen

illustrated by Todd Stewart

Two new picture books from Andrew Larsen should top your March Break reading list: Charlies’s Dirt Day is a perfect springtime read, and if you spend any part of this break planning the summer break, the wonderful See You Next Year will remind you of all that there is to look forward to with a summer escape.

imgres-6

Charlie’s Dirt Day begins with an informal parade, a parade to a massive pile of dirt that the mayor is giving away.  (Do you have a city councillor or local official who does this?  I love our annual neighbourhood dirt days!  Everyone rolls up to fill a bucket or a barrow to nourish their young gardens with free compost from the city.)  Charlie is given his very own seed to grow, and he and his neighbour turn the tomatoes that he grows into a delicious spaghetti sauce.  This is a wonderful read-aloud, as the rhythm of the story carries you along trippety trip tripping with Charlie to the park and then back home to await the magic borne of sun and water and care.  The book ends with a two-page spread of science about dirt and compost, city gardens grown on balconies and community gardens that let city-dwellers grow their own food.  Pair this book with an outing to Canada Blooms, and your littlest gardeners will be raring to go.

imgres-7

See You Next Year is all about the joy of summer holidays and their predictable routines and rituals.  It’s got a lovely lyrical quality to it, and there’s a comforting and wistful tone to the narrator’s recounting of her annual summer holidays at the beach.  Each year, she returns to the same motel by the beach, and she delights in recounting all of the sights and sounds of the summer season.  The illustrations are stunning, and Todd Stewart’s particular gift is with light: the light of a bonfire, of the bandstand, of the setting city sun.  If you are aching for the summer season, this is a great book to bring it just that wee bit closer.

imgres-8

For middle grade readers, Middlest is on his second reading of the Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins, who later wrote The Hunger Games.  There are five books in the series that features a boy from New York who discovers an entire civilization deep underground.  The Underlanders, in turn, discover that he is the key to many of the prophesies their founder made, and Gregor finds himself in peril and adventure at every turn.  The action is very fast-paced, and each chapter ends with a cliffhanger, which makes it very hard to put down the book and has kept my boy up way, way past bedtime on many a night.  These books are not for the faint of heart, as there is a fair amount of gore and a lot of suspense.  But if your middle grade reader is looking for a truly addictive read, we recommend these highly.

Brother’s Day

May 24 is Brother’s Day, a day to celebrate brothers in your life.  This week, 4 Mothers and guest Meg Gardner will be posting interviews with our sons about their brothers.

In the mean time, if you are looking for some ways to mark Brother’s Day, here are some new and classic children’s books about brothers:

imgres-2Andrew Larsen has a fabulous new picture book out called In the Tree House, and it is beautifully illustrated by Dušan Petričić.  It’s the perfect book to read for Brother’s Day because it touches on the inevitable moment in brothers’ lives when one brother migrates more towards his friends than his little bro.  This book tells about that separation, and about how the brothers reunite in their tree house one dark night.  My boys (5 and 7) love this book, and they were fully entranced both by the story and by the illustrations.  (In one image, the brothers are playing War, and the boys always examine the illustration to see which brother has the best cards and is likely to win.)

imgres-3Speaking of War, a classic book with a wonderful brother-sister pair is From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg.  Claudia and her brother Jamie run away from home on the funds Jamie has made playing War and saving his allowance.  Claudia has other siblings she could have asked along on her escape from her parents’ ingratitude, but this one is rich and she is nothing if not practical.  They camp out at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, solve a mystery about a sculpture there, and befriend the anonymous and prickly donor.  It is a fabulous urban version of a desert island tale, and the kids navigate survival in the civilized centre of the urban jungle.  I have to say that, while I remember this book fondly from childhood, when I read it aloud to my 7-year-old recently, my fascination was with Claudia’s grammar.  She knows that it’s wrong to have dangling prepositions and corrects her brother when dangles them.  I’m not sure most high school university graduates could tell you that today. O tempora!  O mores!

Other books you might try:

The Great Brain, by John D. Fitzgerald (this is how I found out about the holiday)

Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter series

The Sam and Stella books by Marie Louise Gay

The Weasley bothers in the Harry Potter books.

The Hardy Boys series written under the collective pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon.

Siblings: You’re Stuck with Each Other, So Stick Together by James Crist

Can you suggest your favourites?