Book Review: The Birthday ABC

The Birthday ABC, by Eric Metaxas, illustrated by Tim Raglin

Although I am not someone who particularly cares personally about birthdays [1] to a great extent, except as an opportunity to be friendly to others, I definitely found this book to be enjoyable and whimsical and see it as a classy if somewhat silly sort of birthday present for a young person.  There are at least several aspects of this book that I think will appeal to children of all ages, and that certainly helped me to enjoy this book more than I might have had it been approached in a different fashion.  For one, the illustrations in the book are gorgeous–mostly of animals in some kind of elegant fashion or hirsute nudity (in the case of the bear for the letter B, for example).  For another, the book is heavily focused on animals–and children tend to enjoy animals a great deal.  Additionally, Metaxas includes a somewhat silly but entertaining poem with every letter of the alphabet, and children tend to enjoy poetry a great deal more than (most) adults.  If you have even a slight deal of interest in birthdays or in Metaxas’ work for children, this is a great book to read.

This is a book with a very straightforward message and very straightforward content.  The presumed reader of the book is a birthday kid.  Metaxas writes a short poem (mostly rhyming quatrains with AABB rhyme scheme) for every letter of the alphabet, focused on an animal who is doing or bringing something to the birthday kid.  Each of these letters and poems also contains a very beautiful illustration that has an admirable degree of class to it, with colors and historical elements that give a touch of heraldry or even the woodcut illustrations of bygone days.  The poetry included, although aimed at children, certainly does not talk down to them.  There are a great many adult readers of the book who would have to look up some of the language in this book, with words like scion, stately, croons, astride, trifle, astute, dapper, trudging, and dandy, among other words, providing both a strong attention to alliteration within the poems as well as an opportunity for readers of this otherwise simple and straightforward book to improve their vocabulary.  Metaxas writes as if people both desire to be amused and informed by what could normally be seen as a silly throwaway book about birthdays.

Yet this book is not a throwaway work at all.  As is the case in Metaxas’ work as a whole, there is more going on than initially meets the eye.  Even in his works relating to children, of which there are quite a few, the author and illustrator combine to create a work that is likely to be appreciated on a variety of levels.  One can appreciate the book for its poetry, look at how it addresses a wide variety of animals for (almost) every letter of the alphabet, read the book to an appreciative child, or even appreciate it from an artistic standpoint for its stellar illustrations.  Given that this is a book with modest goals but immense achievement, it provides a good way for young people to begin what could be a very lengthy and profitable experience of reading the author’s works and in seeking to find the deeper insight that can appear even in books that would appear to be slight and superficial.  This experience would be immensely important for young people in preparing them for looking at the author’s commitment to bringing silliness to Socratic argumentation and philosophizing or his interest in the layers of the lives of people like Luther and Bonhoeffer.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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