Birthdays: Beyond Cake and Ice Cream is a book that lives up to its title. Its three chapters explore birthdays on an individual and global level. Salient facts are interwoven with personal anecdotes, making for a volume that will appeal to a range of readers.
The first chapter focuses on the origins of birthdays as a special day and how they have been celebrated throughout history. Among the intriguing historical facts on offer is that, until fairly recently, birthdays were often celebrated only by royalty or other notable personalities, owing to a lack of standardized calendars and record keeping. The second chapter explores global birthday traditions, focusing on food, gifts, and local practices. Personal birthday stories from around the world, as well as information about traditional recipes and games, are also provided. The third chapter discusses milestone birthdays, their significance, and how they are celebrated. In North America, birthdays are often thought of as a celebration for children, so it is interesting to learn that in other cultures, they are primarily celebrated among the elderly.
Of particular relevance to school libraries and social studies teachers, Birthdays is written in a style that works for a range of reading levels, from advanced primary-school readers to reluctant secondary-school readers. The colourful photos are eye-catching and support the text. Social studies teachers will find many points for discussion in the second and third chapters, especially in comparing and contrasting cultural practices. School librarians will also find it useful; Birthdays would be an ideal starting point for a beginner’s research project, as it provides a reference section, a glossary, and an index. The only drawback is the layout – sometimes the sidebars (for recipes, games, etc.) distract from the primary text, and confuse the flow of the copy. Overall, however, Birthdays is a highly engaging read.