Readers familiar with the mishaps and misadventures of animal friends as written and illustrated by Andrew Cangelose and Josh Shipley will no doubt be excited to dive into this fourth installment in the series that started with This is a Taco! Part informational picture book, part comic, this hilarious hybrid tells the tale of forest baker Shelly the turtle’s attempts to teach baking apprentice Bucky the rabbit how to make a birthday cake. But of course, anyone who noticed the crossed-out “disaster” right on the front cover of the book knows this baking lesson is going to be anything but ordinary!
And that disaster ensues almost from the get-go, with main characters Bucky the rabbit and Shelly the turtle instantly at odds in their approaches to baking. As Bucky the rabbit speeds ahead without following proper baking instructions, and experienced baker Shelly the turtle taking it at a slower pace, adults and older kids reading aloud to younger readers may soon recognize why something about this feels familiar: it’s a clever reimagining of the classic fable, “The Tortoise and the Hare.”
As in the timeless tale, Bucky the rabbit’s belief that speed is equal to skill ends up being his biggest error. When he serves his cake at the party, the exaggerated expressions of disgust on the faces of his forest friends are proof that mistakes were definitely made. After all, it’s got to be quite a shock when you bite into a slice of dirt frosted with mud and sprinkled with acorns when you’re expecting tasty chocolate cake! But Shelly the turtle shows young readers that taking things slow and steady and following the recipe step by step will
win the race save the party for all!
Kids will enjoy following along with the goofy antics sprinkled amongst real information, like brief references to the history of birthday cakes, and will likely want to give baking a try with their grown ups using the actual recipe outlined in the story.
Shipley’s illustrations are lively and sweet with a vibrant color palette. The pages and panels depicting the situations Bucky finds himself in have a whirlwind feel to them, full of speed and action, while Shelly’s quiet baking scenes have a gentle softness evocative of her character. Though it is technically the fourth in a series, This is a Birthday Cake works just as well as a standalone book for readers unfamiliar with the previous three books. It likely will entice those new to the series to go back and find the first three, though. Recommended for young readers who are making their first jump from picture books to beginner graphic novels, or who might still be reading together with an adult, this delightfully silly tale could be cataloged in either a graphic novel or a picture book collection.
This is a Birthday Cake (This is a …! bk 4)
By Andrew Cangelose
Art by Josh Shipley
Oni Press, 2022
Publisher Age Rating: 4-8
NFNT Age Recommendation: Picture Books (3-8)