Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Xander's Panda Party

Xander’s Panda Party, by Newbery Award winning, Linda Sue Park, and illustrated by Matt Phelan is a little gem of a book. Written in wonderfully mesmerising rhyme, it is a delight to read aloud.
Xander’s original idea is to plan his birthday party for pandas only, but he quickly realizes that would make it a party of one. So ....
Xander adds all the bears to the list … but … Koala protests. She’s a marsupial! Does that mean she isn’t invited? This leads to his expanding the guest list to include all of the mammals in the zoo.
But then:
"Soon Rhinoceros sent word:
'It may sound a bit absurd,
but I won't come without my bird.'"

'Xander felt a little blue. He chewed bamboo, a stalk or two. He fidgeted
and paced the floor, then scratched an itch and paced some more.
Finally, a firm decision: Xander's brand-new party vision.'
(The double page wordless spread of Xander delivering invitations to all the animals in the zoo is wonderful. )
The essential mathematical and scientific concepts of identifying, sorting, grouping and classifying are introduced in a very clever, engaging way.  It is also a story about inclusiveness and diversity shown in a format which is gentle, amusing and appealing.
"What a party! What a ball! Lots of new friends, tall and small! Every creature at the zoo…"
As folk singer Bill Staines sang, "All God's critters got a place in the choir!".
As ‘”Xander's party plans went from grand to even grander”, this story has got me thinking about the trend in children’s birthday parties in general.  When my children were growing up, these were simple affairs by today’s standards; cake, balloons, presents, games like pin the tail on the donkey. We generally adhered to the one guest per child’s age idea. My sons both celebrate their birthdays in mid-August so their parties were always held outside in our back yard; apple bobbing, the slip n’ slide, three legged races, sack (pillow case) races and the like.  A couple times we had a piñata; kids adore candy raining down from above.
My daughter is a January baby so her parties were held indoors, but consisted of some similar activities, games and also crafts like creating friendship bracelets. The party she remembers best is her seventh, which featured dressing-up. For this, I merely placed a huge box filled with an assortment of old clothes; primarily ladies’ dresses, shoes and hats for the girls to dress up in, in the center of our rec-room, alongside a basket filled with costume jewellery. I also set up a large standing mirror so they could see themselves, and preen and prance before it. It was a huge hit, and Sarah-Beth remembers it with delight.
In those days my children felt that McDonald’s parties were the ultimate in sophistication and were thrilled to receive an invitation to one. Our family didn’t visit McDonald’s often, so for them, this was a real treat and a novel idea. Gradually, children’s birthday parties seem to have become elaborately themed galas with custom cakes, expensive gift bags and party favours, solar powered bouncy castles, petting zoos, and over-the-top activities.  Parents feel a lot of pressure and competition to provide the ‘perfect’ experience.
Last year we were invited to a first birthday party for the one year old granddaughter of a friend. It was princess themed and there were at least sixty people in attendance. At one point, the sweet little thing was dressed in a multi-layered, frilly tutu and tiara and placed on a plastic sheet by herself with a large whipped cream cake especially made for her to attack and ruin while a professional photographer took pictures. The amount of gifts was unbelievable, and the food fabulous enough for an Oscars Party! By the end of the event, the little princess was in tears and her parents looked frazzled.

The cake below is a far cry from one of my own typical kids' birthday cake efforts which usually consisted of a home-made slab cake of some sort, slathered in icing and decorated with smarties.
                                                   (from Google images.)
I pray the day will prevail that this trend will reverse and simpler birthday parties become in vogue once more.  
In Xander’s words:
“A celebration invitation – food, fun and conversation!”


  1. I just realized that Xander is a story of xenophilia, the love of the other, the foreign, the different.

  2. Great book choice for X. I'm learning so many X words today.

  3. I'll definitely check this book out. I totally agree with you about kids' birthday parties!

  4. Xander's is my kind of party. Food, fun and conversation. That's it.

  5. I'm taking a note of this book. Xander is a cool name!

  6. As an educator, I love this book and will definitely keep it mind for future lessons. I also agree with you about the ridiculous opulence that children's parties have become. Blessings!

  7. Jo, your words play like music. I come here for suggestions on books to buy for my grandies. I'll look for Xander next time I'm in the store.

    Hope you're coming to our Fireworks in the Park KSO event on July 1st?

  8. ha. i love the art in this...and the inclusive nature the party takes on...what an amazing cake at that birthday you went to...i agree with arnoldo on the use of the book in school...even my high school kids love it when i break out a kids book and do story time with them....

  9. I remember dressing up like that when I was a kid! I think old clothes are way more fun than all those perfectly fitting princess dresses out there now. I love the illustrations in the book - Matt Phelan's stuff is always wonderful.

  10. You have got lovely birthday parties! I remember the parties we had. We often combined the birthdays of three different families, because our children had their birthdays all in June and July. We spent these parties outside near a pool with a playground and we had a lot of treats. We also went to a museum sometimes where the children had to do a quiz and find all kind of subjects in the building. It ended in a pancake party.
    Having parties is important.
    Wil, ABCW Team

  11. Wonderful illustrations and a delightful story - I agree with Xander's idea of a birthday party - food, fun, and conversation! Love your last photo of the girls playing dress-up - so adorable!