Last year at a toddler’s  birthday party, I had a pleasant surprise as a lover of books and former teacher.  Instead of party favors of candy or tiny toys, his mother had set out a display bookshelf with Little Golden Books on birthdays and the Paw Patrol theme.  Each child got to take a book on their way out.  We know that when books are present in the home and children are able to find books they love and identify with, that reading and literacy is encouraged, so, why not incorporate a love of reading into one of a child’s favorite days each year – their birthday!  I immediately told her I was stealing the idea, and I’ve been thinking about other ways to incorporate books into parties ever since.


Book party themes and decorations

For younger children, choosing a famous classic to plan around, such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar or The Cat in the Hat, will allow many children at the party to be familiar with the decorations.  The vibrant colors from picture books translate easily to streamers, cupcakes, and other party essentials.

Look online for ideas and printouts that can help you effectively plan your theme.  Urban literacy specialist and author Kathryn Starke shared that she started a Pinterest page with ideas for a travel themed party that goes with her book, Amy’s Travels.   Many other authors, educators, bakers, or other professionals also keep pinterest boards or blogs with party ideas using their products. For example, PBS Kids, which has several cartoon series based on beloved book characters, offers printables on their website.

If a child is old enough to tell you his or her favorite book, reading it with them or on your own will allow time for you to discuss the book together and to brainstorm food or decorations that you can connect to the book.

For older children and teens, a party planning, crafting guide, cookbook, or etiquette book can be a perfect gift to give ahead of a party to encourage them to read non-fiction as they help plan and prepare.  Planning Perfect Parties, by Jen Jones, is an example of a book written to help girls learn to make their ideas for a fun day with their friends become a reality. You could also look through the nonfiction section of your local library to find books on event planning or extra information on your favorite authors and series.


Party activities connected to reading

Ashley Jefferson, the Atlanta area owner of Play Enthusiasm, LLC, which does classes, workshops, and event planning based around the importance of play in a child’s life, shares that planning a party around a book is a wonderful way to incorporate imaginative play and creative thinking into a child’s party. She explains,  “If we want a Three Little Pigs theme, for instance, you could easily have a house building activity station with straws, hay and cardboard or some other material to see how well their homes hold up! They could also make piggy and wolf masks.”   If you prefer to have your child’s party at an event planning location, see if there is a way you might incorporate your child’s favorite book into the set themes they have.  She also suggests incorporating an actual storytime into the party, either through reading the book yourself, or hiring someone to do a storytime with the children.

Many young adult books incorporate activities into the plot of the book that can be adapted into games for a group.  Have a child that loves Alice and Wonderland?  An outdoor tea party with mismatched plates and game a croquet can work for a variety of ages.  Have a teenager that loves dystopian fiction?  Take a group of their friends to play laser tag or paintball with cake and snacks afterwards that are decorated with emblems from The Hunger Games or Divergent.


Books as Thank-you’s

While books as favors has already been mentioned, alternatively a craft or photo that matches the theme is a way to spend time at the party and give children something to take home.

Tara Woods Turner, an etiquette consultant and the author of Beyond Good Manners: How to Raise a Sophisticated Child, shares that guests can get in on the fun by coming dressed as literary characters.  Even if guests are not in costume, a photo station can be created with items to allow children to dress up and have their photos taken “in character”.  She suggests having your child “email each guest his or her picture as part of his virtual thank you note,” a perfect way to help your child remember their special day and also practice the art of graciousness.

Lori Oster, a mother, educator and reading specialist from Chicago, shared with me through an online parenting group that she purchased Dr. Seuss’s Happy Birthday to You for her child and has party attendees sign a page every year.  This way, when her child is older, she can see lovely notes written from people each year.  She also suggests purchasing the paperback bundles available through Scholastic school book sales as a way to cost effectively have a selection of themed books to give as favors.


Book gift-giving 

If you are the attendee of a birthday party for a child or teen, and you aren’t sure what to purchase as a gift, consider a book-related present.  A copy of your favorite book as a child with a note explaining why you loved it so much can become a valuable keepsake.  While a beautiful hardcover book, or boxed set of a favorite paperback series can be a wonderful gift all on its own, for a child you are close to, finding a stuffed animal, t-shirt, or other age appropriate item that accompanies a book can help the book live on for more than one read-thru.  Lori also suggested a magazine subscription as a present that will continue reading throughout the year, and would be easy for gift you need to mail.  Gifts related to literacy and writing, such as word and letter magnets, journals, dress-up costumes, and trivia games are also ways to encourage critical thinking and imaginative play.

This article appears in the February 2017 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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