________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 17 . . . . January 13, 2017


Birthdays: Beyond Cake and Ice Cream. (Orca Origins).

Nikki Tate & Dani Tate-Stratton.
Victoria, BC: Orca, March, 2017.
79 pp., hc., pdf & epub, $24.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-1297-0 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-4598-1298-7 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-1299-4 (epub).

Subject Heading:
Birthdays-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



Many places serve cake as part of the birthday menu. The modern birthday cake is most commonly attributed to the Germans and their celebrations of Kinderfest, which recognized the birthdays of children. In the 1800s German bakers realized that sweet cakes for children's birthday parties would be popular items. Luckily for those of us who love fancy cakes, they started creating light, sweet cakes similar to what we know and enjoy today. Known as Geburtstagstorten, these cakes became more and more elaborate and tricky and time-consuming to make until only the richest families could afford to buy them.

German cakes began to be topped with flaming candles during the eighteenth century. Instead of representing the light of the moon as they did in Ancient Greece (see page 16), one candle represented each year the person had been alive and one or more others were added to indicate they were expecting to live a few more years as well. Today, some German families light one large candle (called a Lebenskerze or life candle) and burn a part of that candle each year until the child turns twelve.

Birthdays: Beyond Cake and Ice Cream is the third addition to the Orca Origins series which explores traditions around the world. The book is not a how-to guide to different birthday parties, as the title might suggest, although readers can easily incorporate into their own celebrations some of the ideas they will learn about. The book is divided into three sections: the first discusses the origin of the birthday traditions we observe today; the second shares various aspects of celebrating; the third talks about the observation of special days in someone's life other than the annual birthday. Detail is presented with short text sections, inserts and sidebars, quick fact boxes, activities and recipes. Personal stories of children in various countries (a feature of all the "Origins" series titles) are included in the last two chapters. Because this book is a collaboration between the author and her daughter, their personal notes supplement the exposition. A Glossary (of words in bold), list of Resources (print and non-print), and Index are included. With a reading level above the target audience, the book may appeal mainly to more sophisticated readers.

      The co-authors have done a thorough job of researching historical detail about birthday origins and the evolution of traditions. Photos and sidebars serve well to anticipate reader questions or extend the learning beyond what's in the main text. For example, when the topic of astrology in Ancient China comes up, a sidebar offers a version of the story about how the order of the zodiac signs was determined. Several activities make the book interactive: keeping a journal with reflections about your own special day and future goals, making a simple birthday calendar for keeping track of family dates, playing a party game called Pass the Parcel. Recipes (with adult supervisory caution) provide yet another way for the reader to experience the information.

      The personal stories offer brief background and include quotes about meaningful memories of the person. This approach supports the mandate set out in the introduction: to answer the question "How much does where you grow up influence the way you celebrate getting a year older?" Young readers might be motivated to more closely consider the traditions of birthdays in their own family history and how they will carry them forward.

      In the third section, some lesser known information is of particular interest. We read about other celebrations such as "outdooring" (when a baby in West Africa is taken outside for the first time at eight-days-old), the significance of the one hundredth day in Korea (to support the belief that a child will live for many years), and coming of age rituals such as the Mexican Quinceanera (changing of the shoes of a girl to symbolize her transition to a woman). Plenty of up-to-date detail is included here.

      Photos are well-chosen, clear and nicely integrated with the text. They mostly feature young people, thereby helping to make the book especially relevant to that audience. The captions are in rather tiny font size though, (perhaps due to the amount of detail, and photo credits included with each one) and many are done in a pale colour that is hard to read. Shorter, simpler captions with attention to placement outside the photo or on a contrasting colour would improve this aspect. This may be corrected in the final proof, however.

      Birthdays: Beyond Cake and Ice Cream is a valuable addition to the series in which several more titles are planned.


Gillian Richardson is a freelance writer living in BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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