In February, my family took my six-year-old to a Friend-a-Versary at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. For the younger set, this is a dream come true – a day of face painting, tattoos, open spaces with kids running everywhere, a visit with Elephant and Piggie and free E&P books (donated by CLiF partners First Book) plus art projects, scavenger hunts, and famous illustrators reading from their books.
This event framed discussion of my daughter’s birthday party. Obviously, recreating the Carle’s extravaganza at home was out. However, she stuck with the book theme and decided to plan her party around her favorite book, The Story of the Samson.
The book tells the life story of a sailing vessel – from sailing around the sinking Titanic because of its illegal cargo to serving as a polar exploration museum in the 1933 World’s Fair to its untimely end and ultimate repurposing. Because of my museum training, I encourage talking about the stories objects tell, but even I admit it is a strange choice for a seventh birthday party.
I thought back to my own childhood birthday parties (before Pinterest!). I remember most vividly the Little House on the Prairie themed party where we made cornhusk dolls and pulled taffy. I worried in this age of over-the-top birthday parties and streaming music and movies, this particular theme might lose our young guests’ attention.
My daughter excitedly listed the different segments of the Samson story. How to incorporate penguins, molasses, and ships in mid-winter snowy Vermont for seven seven-year-old girls? We tweaked the theme to exploration and used her list to plan penguin crafts, an indoor treasure hunt, and cork-boat races in a water tub. We satisfied all the food needs by making gluten and dairy free molasses cookies and serving orange slices and lemon Italian ice (to fight scurvy). We sent each girl home with pencil, notebook, stickers, and hopefully an inclination to explore and to read The Story of the Samson.
I loved watching how they tweaked the activities:
- Hunting for treasure (peanuts and Starbursts) multiple times, because it was more fun to hide them for each other and then to divide them up equally.
- Experimenting with painting the water and sinking the boats trumped designing sails.
- Discovering styrofoam cups make better hot air balloon baskets for Calico Critters than polar bear noses.
Mostly, I loved how they made this book come to life. With help from Pinterest – but without face painting and tattoos – the book themed party survives!