6 Funny Kids’ Books About Terrible Birthdays

by Tom Burns

Photo credit: Maria Teijeiro, OJO Images/Getty Images

Birthdays are emotional events, especially for children. Everything is heightened — the parties, the presents, the expectations. Because of that, kids tend to divide up them into one of two camps: BEST or WORST EVER. There is no middle ground! Maybe that’s why there are so many children’s books about birthdays: Authors know they are naturally chaotic, and treading that thin line between birthday triumph and tragedy can be a lot of fun (as long as you’re not the person hosting the party).

If you’re looking for a terrific birthday book — one that really appreciates the insane energy of a child’s party — here are six classic titles that your kids will love (and might make you rethink your party plans for next year).

  • Moira’s Birthday

    by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko

    Moira thinks it’s crazy that her parents only want her to invite six friends to her sixth birthday party, so she decides to invite more — a lot more. Hundreds of children invade Moira’s house, which initially delights her, but when the unholy mess soon gets bigger than her pile of presents, Moira has some tough decisions to make to get her house back to normal. Canadian legend Munsch (creator of The Paper Bag Princess) expertly shows his readers the pros and cons of a truly unruly birthday party.

  • The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party

    by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

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    You would think being a princess who secretly moonlights as a masked superhero would be awesome, but it does have its downsides, as we learn from this hilarious early reader from the Hales (gorgeously illustrated by Pham). Princess Magnolia has planned herself the PERFECT birthday party, but she keeps getting interrupted by monster alarms demanding her attention. Who knew trying to maintain your secret identity could make your own birthday party so aggravating? Why must birthday perfection be so difficult to pull off?

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  • Fortunately

    by Remy Charlip

    This classic picture book has a beautifully simple, totally ingenious structure — every spread alternates between the words “Fortunately” or “Unfortunately.” So, fortunately, Ned gets invited to a surprise party. (Spoiler alert: It’s for his birthday). But, unfortunately, it’s quite far away. Thus begins Ned’s long trip to his party, alternating between best- and worst-case scenarios. Sure, he gets there in the end, but after suffering through plane explosions, shark attacks, and vicious tigers, can you really call it the best birthday ever? A truly marvelous read-aloud book.

  • The Eleventh Hour: A Curious Mystery

    by Graeme Base

    Base is best known for Animalia, his breathtakingly beautiful animal alphabet book, but this clever, challenging mystery might be one of his greatest creations. Horace the Elephant’s elaborate 11th birthday party is ruined when someone steals the celebratory feast. But who? The clues are hidden throughout Base’s minutely detailed illustrations, and it’s up to the reader to save the party and find out who the thief really is. It’s like the board game Clue meets Where’s Waldo, set against the backdrop of the most beautiful zoo imaginable. Solving this mystery is way more fun than your average party.

  • The Princess and the Pony

    by Kate Beaton

    Beaton is the creator of the popular web comic Hark, A Vagrant!, and her smart, skewed sense of humor shines through in her first picture book, about either the best or the worst birthday present ever. Princess Pinecone comes from a long line of warriors, and all she wants for her birthday is a powerful, noble war horse she can ride into her next battle. Instead, however, she gets a pony. A cute pony. A fat pony. A pony that farts. (Honestly.) What happens when she attempts to ride her aggressively adorable pony into battle? The outcome might surprise you (or make you laugh until you cry).

  • Bumble-Ardy

    by Maurice Sendak

    One of the last picture books Sendak ever published, Bumble-Ardy follows an orphaned young pig who, due to the death of his parents, has never had a birthday party. So, on his ninth birthday he decides to throw a riotous porcine bash, inviting a pack of wild pig friends to indulge themselves in “birthday cake and brine.” Things quickly spiral into a frenzy, nearly destroying Bumble-Ardy’s aunt’s house and leaving him in tears, searching for forgiveness. Like Sendak’s best works, it’s gruff, wild, and unusual, which also sounds like a pretty apt description of any nine-year-old’s birthday party.