Christian Robinson: A Child’s Eye-View of Birthdays

Christian’s art in the studio, sans text (Click to enlarge)
Christian’s art in the studio, sans text (Click to enlarge)

Poet Julie Fogliano has a way with words, and in her newest picture book, When’s My Birthday? (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press), illustrated by Christian Robinson, she’s at her most child-friendly (which is saying a lot, since I think her previous books are inviting to—and delightful for—child readers). This one will be on shelves in September.

I was just about to type that birthdays are extra-special days for children, but hell. I get excited on my own birthday too, and (you can ask my friends) I’m a bit of a birthday bad-ass–in that I can tell you when your birthday is if we are good friends. Or I can, at the very least, get a few days close to it. (I always assume EVERYONE can do this, but evidently not.) It’s a fun party trick. And that’s because they’re little holidays for everyone–it’s your one special day to celebrate your very existence. I recently got into a conversation with my daughters about how I think most holidays are over-rated, and when they asked what the best holiday is, I had to say, simply: Birthdays.

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This is a picture book (a tall, vertically-oriented one, as if the book itself is a giant candle) that celebrates the thrill children get when anticipating a birthday and all that comes with it–cakes, chocolate, candles, parties, presents. Even wishes. It’s a heap of unfettered joy, this one. Fogliano’s text is infectiously rhythmic and perfectly paced–this one begs to be shared aloud–and she even sprinkles in some nonsense words (“I’m just dreaming of my bluuuurfday” and “time for cakey/wakey wakey”). The text is from the point-of-view of an unnamed narrator (though we see one young girl multiple times), first wondering when the birthday will come; then dreaming of what the celebration will be like; and then, suddenly, “in the morning it’s my birthday!” Here, the child can hardly sleep from the excitement, but when she finally does, it’s “happy snore and snore to me!”

Illustrator Christian Robinson uses collage techniques in this one to great effect. One spread shows a giant present, wrapped up in a big bow. The present and child near it are rendered in acrylics, yet the present is wrapped in actual string. (You can see this below.) As is always the case with Robinson’s style, the images consist of basic shapes; if child readers are inspired to get out their own paper and paints to illustrate their own birthday ponderings, don’t be surprised.

Here are a couple more spreads from the book. (The vertical black line you see in the center of each spread, in case you’re wondering, indicates the book’s gutter.) Below that are some (gutter-free) images from Christian.

Here are a couple more spreads from the book. (The vertical black line you see in the center of each spread, in case you’re wondering, indicates the book’s gutter.) Below that are some (gutter-free) images from Christian.

‘when’s my birthday?/where’s my birthday?/how many days until/my birthday?’ (Click to enlarge spread)
‘when’s my birthday?/where’s my birthday?/how many days until/my birthday?’
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‘I’d like a big cake on my birthday/with lots of chocolate on my birthday/and lots of candles on my birthday/1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6!’ (Click to enlarge spread)
‘I’d like a big cake on my birthday/with lots of chocolate on my birthday/and lots of candles on my birthday/1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6!’ (Click to enlarge spread)

‘happy happy day to me!’ (Click to enlarge spread, where the text varies slightly)
‘happy happy day to me!’ (Click to enlarge spread, where the text varies slightly)

 

Here are the additional images from Christian’s desk (and wall!):

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WHEN’S MY BIRTHDAY? Copyright © 2017 by Julie Fogliano. Illustrations © 2017 by Christian Robinson. Published by Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press, New York. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, with additional images from Christian Robinson.

 

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Julie Davidson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at her acclaimed blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books. The above blog was posted at 7-Imp on July 9, 2017.