[Image Descriptions: R2 celebrates his third birthday by eating a rainbow cake covered in butterfly decorations while wearing his own blue butterfly wings.] The rest of the images in this post are book covers of titles referenced in the post.
In this post: Our favorite collection of birthday-themed books for infants through kindergarten.
Celebrating 3 years of Books For Littles!
In honor of the 3rd birthday of Books for Littles, here are the birthday-themed books we’ve enjoyed most through the years.
Books For Littles(BFL) is free and accessible for readers who can’t afford a paywall. Posts may contain affiliate links, which allow me to earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Check out the full affiliate disclosure along with the BFL statement of accountability. If you’re pairing this advice with a trip to the library (please do!), you can also support BFL on Patreon.
Captioned age ranges are for when my sons enjoyed each story in anticipation of an upcoming birthday or a friend’s birthday party.
First-Year Birth Milestones
The following stories center around cultural milestone events that are not-quite-birthdays, but significant birthday-ish events.
Most of them do double-duty in colluding with big siblings for the pomp and attention a new baby attracts, which is helpful for validating envious feelings while also giving older siblings a sense of control and inclusion preparing for the big day.
‘Henry’s First Moon Birthday‘ centers on big-sister Jenny in the preparation before her baby brother’s First-Moon Birthday. She and her grandmother prepare food and decorations for this Chinese tradition.
‘A Song For My Sister‘ features Mira’s conflicted feelings surrounding her baby sister’s Simchat Bat (Jewish naming ceremony) and her experience – both challenging and hopeful – with the changes in her family.
‘Oscar’s Half-Birthday’ follows an ordinary weekend family day of loving little city-dwelling family. Together, they enjoy a sublime, ordinary day (which happens to be Oscar’s 6-month birthday) and celebrate the mundanity of the present – all those little things we tend to get nostalgic about long after they’re over. Bonus points for representing a multiracial family (white/black) and not making it into a ‘thing.’
Birthday Stories for Ages 1 and Up
[R2’s top pick from ages 1-3.] From 12-18 months, R2 was obsessed with all things birthday-cake related and he asked to read ‘Who Made This Cake?‘ every night. Both he and his older (age 5) brother love finding tiny details of how the trucks work and how the construction workers (roughly half of which are female!!!) work to build a cake worth remembering.
‘Happy Birthday, Bunny!‘ isn’t particularly interesting as a story, but the illustrations are devastatingly cute and helpful if you’re preparing a tot for what to expect during a traditional North-American secular birthday party. Stories like this are great for anxious kids who like to be prepared before new experiences.
Birthday Stories for Ages 2 and Up
(Q’s top pick from 2-3). Like many of Oxenbury’s characters, the little boy in ‘It’s My Birthday‘ is flawed and realistic and Q finds this validating. He particularly loves that the main character neglects to say ‘please’ – so Q could can correct the language as I read the text. After adding our ‘please-es and ‘thank you-s’ to the story, the sweet (but mercifully short) repetition ends with a tiny bit of suspense and a simple lesson in sharing and appreciation.
‘Bulldozer’s Big Day‘ was perfect for the peak of Q’s truck obsession around 2-3. Even for his 4th birthday, he loved the suspense of Bulldozer’s excitement, disappointment, and the big twist at the end. As is typical with truck books, you’ll have to take a few liberties swapping gender pronouns, as all the characters in the book are male (Bulldozer & Roller are gender-neutral).
‘Whopper Cake‘ is a long-time favorites of both kids. Not really much to do with birthdays, but it’s silly and imaginative and perfect for that stage when kids love the extremes of huge things (generally around 3-4ish) and really, we all love fantasizing about massive cakes so big they need to be baked in the bed of a pickup truck.
Pooh’s Cleanup – All the friends pitch in to help clean up after the birthday party, and each character helps within their abilities.
Birthday Stories for Ages 3 And Up
‘Little Bear‘ was my own childhood favorite, and the sweet, generous story of Little Bear’s kind response to thinking that his mom ‘forgot’ his birthday holds up through the decades. (Ages 3+)
‘Xander’s Panda Party‘ is an adorable (albeit unrealistic) story of compromise and inclusion. Silly stories like this are helpful to explain why everyone we know can’t be on the guest list for a birthday party, but allow for us to imagine what-ifs. It’s also a helpful book to touch on the idea of discrimination (by species) and exclusion – while the story doesn’t address the idea directly, we’re called on to consider: where do we draw the line on who is invited, and who isn’t – and what’s a fair way to do it? Limiting guests isn’t an issue for our family (Our policy: Third birthday parties get three guests, and so on…) but it’s worth talking about.
If you’re unfamiliar with David Lucas, his pacing is abrupt, leaving you to check to make sure pages aren’t missing from the book. (So consider yourself warned.) ‘Cake Girl ‘is a peculiar story that won’t work for everyone, but the moral of being kind to helpers, rather than treating them like servants, is a helpful story to consider. I find this topical when my boys start getting a little uppity and entitled about special birthday treatment. The 7-year-old still enjoys it.
Bell’s Knock Knock Birthday – Flamingo Rampant sent me a free digital version of this book so I could review it. It’s adorable and completely over-the-top with radical progressive background details. Sadly since it’s digital I can’t read it with my kids, but I do wish we had a copy, I think my kids would love it – but can’t be sure without testing it with them.
I Got A Chicken For My Birthday – Oh we enjoyed this. Abuela gets the protagonist a demanding chicken for her birthday. It’s just silly. And good for appreciating odd gifts and normalizing Latinx families.
Birthday Stories for 4 and Up
‘A Fire Truck Named Red‘ is only tangentially related to birthdays, but we love reading this story of a grandfather’s hand-me-down gift to his grandson. Although initially disappointed to receive a rusty old toy, the boy and his grandfather fix it up together as grampa recounts his old adventures with the truck. My boys are delighted with the meaning behind each ding and scratch, and understand how priceless Red is by the end of the story. We’ve enjoyed it every single year, from ages 4-7.
‘Pancakes for Findus,’ AKA ‘The Birthday Cake‘ (same exact story, different titles designed to appeal to US readers) are from Sven Nordqvist’s series of a doddering old man and his precocious talking cat. This is our family’s favorite series and each book is beloved. Findus & Pettson’s banter is heartwarming, charming, and witty, and they fit within the detailed, ordinary-yet-fantastical illustrations perfectly. Every single one of these books is something I’m excited to hand down to my grandchildren one day.
I wish I could recommend the ‘How Do Dinosaurs…‘ series, with illustrations that hilarious but feature terrible examples of what NOT to do – but my boys use these cautionary tales as inspiration and it doesn’t work for my rambunctious little earthquakes. So I was delighted to find ‘If A T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party,’ featuring a similar humor, but without the troublesome inspiration for misbehavior. Its centered around a traditional secular North American birthday party (party games, pinatas, etc.) so might not make sense for kids who celebrate differently.
I keep trying to get kids to read Marisol McDonald And The Clash Bash. It’s cognitively appropriate for 4+ but we still aren’t digging it after reading it from ages 4-7. It’s rare to find books featuring Latinx multiracial families. Marisol can’t pick just one theme for her birthday, so she decides to merge them all together. Works for birthday party planning, and there’s an underlying story of missing her grandmother, who can’t make it to the party due to red tape and immigration documentation. Also it’s bilingual in English & Spanish. As much as I want my kids to like it, it’s doing too much and a saccharinely peppy. Not for us. Maybe it’s for you!
When Grandma Gives You A Lemon Tree – Oh, we all adored this book about how to graciously receive unwanted gifts and then make the most out of them. It’s subtle, but the background illustrations include a theme of how unplugging and doing stuff in real life is more fun and rewarding than playing expensive toys and gadgets. It’s a similar story to Not Norman, but more entertaining.
Harriet Gets Carried Away – This is cute and simple, but I have to admit I wanted more story from this book that it delivers. The illustrations though – adorable and hilarious. And it normalizes a multiracial family with gay dads and a girl of color!
Birthday Stories for 5 and Up
- Carmela Full of Wishes – the excitement of new responsibilities as you get older, and that encroaching feeling that the world is a little too big for you to take on yourself. The trip to the laundromat exposed my kids to their wealth privilege. There’s a small part touching on the uncertainty of waiting for undocumented parents to come home, and a validating sibling conflict and resolution. This resonated more with the 5-year-old than the 7-year-old, but both kids enjoyed it.
- Happy Birthday To You – Yeah. I know Dr. Seuss was racist. But you know they are going to come across this book at school or whatever, and you might as well read it together and unpack how a man who creates such fun books can have problematic views.
- When’s My Birthday? – I thought the Earthquakes would enjoy this in preschool, but it didn’t resonate with them until they hit 5. This is also the age when the anticipation of waiting for a birthday really hits a peak.
- Wait And See – All the giggles for this one. Both the 5 & 7yo asked to read this every night for a month. No overarching moral, it’s just silly and fun. I think the highlight is that the parents are just as illogical and silly as the kids, and it’s a story that normalizes a Black family without them having to be perfect.
Birthday Stories for 6 and Up
- The Birthday Cake (Findus And Pettson) – Okay, most of the humor about scope-creep is likely to go over a 6-year-old’s head, but they will enjoy it anyway. And it’s more about un-birthdays than real birthdays. BUT – they’ll enjoy unpeeling the layers of humor as they age, this book is hilarious well through adulthood. This entire series is amazing. Really I just want an excuse for you to read it, we adore Findus and Pettson.
- Always Anjali – As a person with an unusual name, I find this book SO FREAKING VALIDATING. It’s not really about birthdays so much as microaggressions and outright hostility against people with non-white names. This resonated with my kids, who also have unique names, right around the age when they want to be average and fit in.
- Alfie – Narrated by a birthday gift (a turtle), this is a funny story with subtle humor on perspective – perfect for that transition from ages 6 to 7 when kids start to realize that other people have different thoughts and takeaways depending on perspective.
Stay Curious & Stand Brave
This post is updated yearly, so stay in touch to see what goodies we find as our family grows older 😉
Did you enjoy this article and learn something new?
Consider supporting my work on Patreon, so I can continue to help parents & educators like you raise the next generation of kind & brilliant leaders. For as little as $1 a month, you can get access to exclusive bonus content, sneak peeks, and free resources you can’t find anywhere else.