One month ago, my darling baby Caitlin turned 2!
Of course, if you ask her how old she is, she says, “Cake!”
Caitlin is a sweet and determined little girl. She always knows what she wants and what she doesn’t! It has been so fun watching her learn over this past year: just when I think she might take forever to figure something out, she takes off running (literally. at 13½ months. walking is for chumps). She studies everything around her, speaks in complete sentences, and stands up for herself. She loves hugs and being outside and picture books. She loves shoes and farm animals and helping with chores. Her favorite foods are peanut butter and grapes.
Caitlin loves nothing better than sitting in our laps and reading books, so we threw her a storybook party to celebrate her second year of life!
As usual, what started out as a plan to keep things super simple ended up getting more and more elaborate. Thank you, Pinterest, for making it easy for me to go overboard.
I went to a few used bookstores in the area and bought up a bunch of old copies of classic children’s books with the plan to turn them into decorations and invitations.
Hold your party hats, people. Several books are about to give their lives.
For invitations, I used images from a few classics to create my own little invitation booklets! Please be aware: I used several copyrighted images from children’s books to make these. These images were used strictly for personal purposes; they were not distributed publicly, nor did I make any money from this at all! I am very grateful for the amazing authors and artists who create lovely books for kids everywhere to enjoy! With that being said…I want to share how I made these mini invitation books!
I combed through kids’ books to find some birthday images that were really beautiful. I settled on A Birthday for Frances for the front cover of my invitation (yes, please notice that I did draw Caitlin’s name into this illustration…sorry Lillian Hoban), and inside I used a birthday picture from a Richard Scarry book, because we love Richard Scarry and we love labeling things! I also tried to model the text after the classic voice of Richard Scarry’s books. For the back cover, I scanned one of our old Little Golden Books and completely rewrote the blurb to explain Caitlin’s love of books!
When I finished tweaking the images, I printed them together into a little booklet. I painted the outside covers with glossy Mod Podge to make them feel even more like little books. When I went to staple the booklets together, I discovered that I didn’t have a stapler long enough to reach the binding crease without bending the books in half, so I ended up using some golden string and tying the booklets together.
Then, because I had seen a cute picture of this on Pinterest, and Pinterest is my downfall, I cut up two Little Critter books to make envelope liners (you know, skipping the pages that were obfuscated by large, black crayon scribbles). And the absurdly complex birthday invitations were complete! And seriously cute.
But what kind of monster spends three days putting together birthday invitations for a two-year-old who can’t remember it? I may or may not be in big trouble for when Caitlin turns 16…
After the invites, the rest of the party decor was easy to pull together.
Be advised: several books were irreparably harmed in the making of this party, haha! Cutting into the first book nearly gave me an apoplexy, but I reminded myself that these were old, falling apart and colored-in copies of books—books no one would likely love in their current forms. I knew I would love them deeply once I turned them into decorations and party favors. Rationalization complete.
First, for favors, I took a copy of Dr. Seuss’s Oh The Places You’ll Go and turned it into bookmarks! This book was totally a random choice, based on the fact that I found it in Goodwill for $1 and the cover was already disconnected from the pages, but if I had the option, I would choose it again! The illustrations were large and bright, and I was able to make 30 bookmarks featuring the Seuss quote, “The more you read, the more you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Dr. Seuss’s drawing style and colors are so iconic that even without the quote, I think it’s fairly obvious the bookmarks came from one of his books!
Next I started in on garlands and banners. When you are going to display paper garlands, my personal philosophy is “more is more.” I started with Winnie the Pooh. I cut into several small, paperback copies of A.A. Milne’s stories to make pennants and round garlands, which I strung with gold ribbons. These mostly landed on the mantle and the wall surrounding the fireplace.
On top of the mantle, I made a framed collage of Caitlin over the past year, growing from ear-splitting smiles last Spring into shrug-shouldered grins this year. I can’t believe how much she has grown!
In addition to the Pooh garlands in the living room, I turned several of Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter books into chain garlands, which I draped from the stair rails and the tops of windows. More chain garlands went on the front porch.
The piece de resistance was about a football field’s worth of circle garlands made out of the entire beautifully illustrated Beatrix Potter collected works. These garlands looked so elegant in the kitchen and waterfalling over the upstairs landing by our front door!
I loved them particularly because the lovely pastel colors, flowers, and animals featured in Potter’s books doubled as super cute Spring decor! We had Caitlin’s party the day before Easter, and the Beatrix Potter garlands are still displayed proudly a month later!
Moving into the food zone.
I really wanted text to be on display! Words are beautiful and interesting. For the main table, I made a table runner out of pages from Charlotte’s Web.
This was, perhaps, the simplest task of all! After removing the pages from the binding and trimming the rough edges, I simply stuck the pages at all angles atop a long piece of clear contact paper. (I should have left the runner alone there, but Dave asked whether I was concerned about food falling on it, and whether I planned to protect it—and I went temporarily insane and painted the top with a thin mixture of matte Mod Podge and fabric medium. I do not recommend this unless you like to be frustrated by rumpled book pages.)
I made a Happy Birthday banner out of cardstock folded to look like books. I used the leftover pages of Charlotte’s Web to line the insides of the book banner.
And then, we did what I had originally thought would be “it” for decorations: we propped up children’s books all over the house. It made the house feel like it was overflowing with books, and I loved it.
I especially loved using picture books as labels for the food! This year, we did book-title themed foods, and I kept it super simple. We had a cracker station with:
Brown Bear, Brown Bears
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fishies
Big Animal crackers
Let me tell you. The cracker station was Caitlin’s favorite thing ever. That little girl discovered her love of animal crackers at Jake’s fourth birthday party, and she begs for them regularly (“How-bout an-mal kwa-KER!?”). Normally I try to avoid giving the kids a lot of highly processed snack foods, so when she found out that she could eat as many animal crackers and goldfish as she wanted, she took full advantage of the situation!
On the big table, we had more involved foods:
Green (deviled) Eggs and Ham
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
The Very Hungry Caterpillar/The Watermelon Seed fruit tray
The Cow Loves Cookies
To celebrate her second (a.k.a., “cake”) birthday right, I made Caitlin a chocolate peanut butter layer cake. Peanut butter is one of her favorite things of all time, and she very cutely yelled, “Chocolate!” at me whenever I asked her what kind of cake she wanted, so the Reese’s-inspired combination was a great fit for her!
The cake was not at all connected to a children’s book. (Can too much of a theme can be a bad thing?) As much as I think cute, themed cakes decorated with fondant and sparkles are amazing…they are not really my style. I don’t have the patience for them, and I love buttercream so much that I honestly can’t imagine bothering with fondant. But even though it wasn’t decorated fancy, it was delicious. (According to my family. I didn’t eat any.)
The recipe came from one of my favorite food blogs, Annie’s Eats, and this is a cake I have made many times! If you are ever looking for the world’s creamiest, lightest, most perfect peanut butter frosting, look no further!
I used a stack of antique kids’ and young adult books, pillaged from my parents’ attic, as a cake stand for the cake.
Poor kid. I think she was a little overwhelmed by everyone singing to her!
But she sure loved eating the cake! Caitlin must have inherited my love of order: rather than digging into her slice of cake, willy nilly, she ate the first half by cutting bites off in neat rows. Ha! Then she gave up on the cake part and just scooped off the frosting.
A storybook party lends itself absolutely perfectly to one awesome activity: story hour!
I wasn’t exactly sure whether the family would bring wrapped gifts, or unwrapped books to read to Caitlin, or a combination of both. I set up a little book basket on a table in the living room. My entire goal for this party was for Caitlin to sit in laps and read books with people she loved!
Of course, I had also envisioned this a little bit more like a library or classroom story hour, where everyone would sit together and listen to several books in a row.
It didn’t quite work out that way. After Caitlin opened the first book, and sat in the first lap to read it, I realized that she had a ton of wrapped presents she would need to unwrap. And the troops were restless. Reading a book every time she unwrapped one would probably drive the adults insane. So we unwrapped all of the books.
After that, most of the kids (and half of the adults, let’s be honest) went outside to chase each other around while Caitlin very determinedly brought books to the adults who remained.
That little girl must have had 15 books read to her over the next half hour! She was delighted. (This is her rapt attention face!)
Finally, we asked aunts, uncles, and grandparents to contribute a favorite memory to a book about Caitlin. I have so loved reading through these, even though I haven’t managed to compile them into a book yet. I hope it will come together in a special keepsake for Caitlin that she can enjoy for years to come!
It was a beautiful birthday with family. Caitlin, I hope you loved being celebrated! We cherish you, daughter, and are so glad you’ve spent two years with us! We look forward to many, many more!