Albert’s Very Unordinary Birthday
Albert’s Very Unordinary Birthday
Albert’s Very Unordinary Birthday begins on what appears to be just another ordinary day in an ordinary town. Only today is Albert’s birthday. And there are no festivities happening. No birthday decorations. Albert isn’t even smiling. In fact, he’s staring out the window, his back to the reader. Soon readers learn that every year Albert’s birthday is an ordinary day. No matter how hard he wishes for it to be different, it’s just an extremely ordinary day.
Where are the robot piñatas? The chocolate-cherry-ripple birthday cake? Can’t make a mess and upset father. Albert wishes for balloon poodles and musical chairs, but his mother doesn’t like noise. Albert must settle for birthday socks and birthday toast. But not this year. He closes his eyes and makes a wish.
Suddenly a knock on the door takes Albert out of his state of ennui. Someone continues to knock persistently, disrupting the quiet of Albert’s home. At the door, looming over Albert is a magnificent woman wearing round blue glasses and a giant blue coat. He recognizes her immediately with her bright orange hair. Grandma Z is everything his parents aren’t; she’s loud and colourful. Grandma Z informs Albert they are going out to celebrate his birthday. Albert is excited, his parents are apprehensive, but Grandma Z convinces them they’ll have an ordinary day, and off they go.
Albert got a fluttery feeling in his stomach, like one hundred monarch butterflies coming out of their cocoons. His skin began to tingle.
This whimsical grandmother whisks Albert away, and the adventures begin. They hunt for the Dew of the Sea, they climb Enchanted Rock, they play in the Midnight Forest, they go bird watching and visit a palace. They teach Icelandic horses how to can-can and ride the Big Dipper. But best of all, Albert’s day ends with a party that includes balloon animals, robot piñatas and a giant chocolate-cherry-ripple cake.
The illustrations in Gray-Barnett’s debut picture book cleverly reflect the tone and the emotions of the story. The book opens onto a small, black and white picture of a town. Next, readers see Albert standing with his back to the reader, staring out the window. As the story unfolds, pictures of Albert and his parents are drawn in black and white. The colour seeps into the story and into Albert’s life the minute Grandma Z knocks on the door. The page, like her fabulous coat, is a vibrant blue. In contrast to her colourful appearance, Albert is illustrated in black and white. The scenery on their adventures is all orange and blue, just like Grandma Z. On some pages, children will have fun looking for Albert and Grandma Z among all the orange and blue illustrations of their adventures. Slowly, with each page and on each adventure, Albert’s appearance and surroundings change as colour seeps into his world, straining against the ordinariness of black and white. As the illustrations suggest, Albert is forever altered by the unordinary experiences.
The story ends the way it begins, with a picture of a town. But this picture is larger and more colourful. And in the corner, a butterfly sits on a colourful blade of grass, paying homage to the butterflies Albert felt in his stomach when his adventure with his grandmother began.
From that day on, whether it was his birthday or any other day, for that matter, Albert never felt ordinary again.
Albert’s Very Unordinary Birthday is an enjoyable, playful story about imagination and the adventures that ensue when shared with a kindred spirit. Children will love the larger-than-life personality of Grandma Z and all the places she and Albert visit. This intergenerational story is a fun read-aloud; the language is lyrical and has a sense of rhythm. The illustrations capture Albert’s boredom at home, his excitement with his grandma and his sense of wonder upon his return. Young readers will enjoy this story, but most of all, they’ll be relieved that, in the end, Albert’s birthday is anything but ordinary.
Emily Ruffell, a library assistant residing in London, Ontario, is currently enrolled in the Master of Library & Information Science graduate program at Western University.