Written by Josh Schneider
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In Josh Schneider’s book, The Meanest Birthday Girl, Dana, the main character, celebrates her birthday “doing what she likes to do,” because, after all, it’s her special day. Doing what she likes includes wearing her favorite birthday dress and eating her favorite breakfast. But, it also means calling Anthony names at the bus stop, pinching him, and stealing his dessert at lunchtime.
After school, Dana continues her celebration with a birthday party that includes all her friends. Later, just before bedtime, Anthony arrives at her door with a gift, leaving the reader to ponder if Anthony was not invited to the party.
His gift? A large, white elephant with bright tusks and toenails that just happen to be painted with Dana’s favorite color. Dana is elated with her wonderful gift and surprised that Anthony would present her with such a nice present after she’d treated him the way she did earlier in the day.
Though Dana enjoys showing off her pet in the neighborhood, her excitement is fleeting. Her pet elephant eats Dana’s breakfast, causing her stomach to rumble on the school bus. That noisy moment invites name-calling from Gertrude, who calls Dana “Grumble-Guts.” Dana’s white elephant pet sleeps in her bed, requires much exercise, eats too much, and even crushes Dana’s bike. And, meanwhile, Gertrude continues to taunt Dana with name-calling, mud ball throwing, and dessert stealing.
Remorsefully, Dana apologizes to Anthony for her actions. When Anthony reminds Dana that Gertrude is celebrating her birthday today, Dana, seemingly uninvited to Gertrude’s party, hatches a plan. Dana gives the white elephant a bath, paints its toenails Gertrude’s favorite color, shows up at Gertrude’s door, and presents her with the white elephant, admonishing her to “Take good care of it.”
Schneider’s humorous and a bit preposterous story about a white elephant gift read aloud to a second grade class opens the door for a discussion about bullying. Many children can relate to name calling and possibly, pinching or pushing and shoving, and maybe even snatching food or toys. Children might also relate to being excluded from a party or other play activity.
After reading the book aloud, the teacher could continue in a humorous bent, allowing the kids to come up with silly, ridiculous ways to end bullying. After a fun time of creativity, the teacher could direct the conversation to a serious one about bullying, encouraging the students to talk about bullying with a trusted adult, if the need arises. The teacher could also utilize teaching time to point out behaviors that might be considered “bullying.”
For an extension of the story, the teacher could incorporate a creative writing experience and have the students write and illustrate a story called, “The Best Birthday Present I Ever Received.”
Author Josh Schneider has written other books for children, including the 2012 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award Medal Winner, Tales for Very Picky Eaters. Interestingly, Josh is married to Dana, but says on the back flap of the book’s cover, that his wife is “much less terrible than the Dana in this book.”
- TITLE: The Meanest Birthday Girl
- AUTHOR: Josh Schneider
- PUBLISHER: Clarion Books-Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
- REVIEWER: Julie Lavender
- EDITION: Hard Cover, 48 p.
- ISBN: 978-0547838144
- GENRE: Contemporary