Happy Birthday, Jamela!

Book review by
Patricia Tauzer, Common Sense Media
Happy Birthday, Jamela! Book Poster Image
Imagination turns disappointment to birthday joy.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Violence & Scariness

No swearing, but an angry mother does tell Jamela to go away.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there's nothing objectionable in this story, although parents need to be prepared to discuss lessons that might be a bit subtle for younger readers. This is part of a series of books about Jamela, a spirited girl growing up in South Africa.

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What's the story?

When Jamela gets "nice and strong" school shoes to go with her birthday dress instead of the Princess shoes she wants, she "wants to cry." She decides to decorate her shoes to make them sparkle, making her mom very upset with her. However, in the end, Jamela's creativity pays off and her birthday is all she had hoped it would be.

Is it any good?

Kids will enjoy reading about Jamela, an imaginative, independent girl who, when threatened with disappointment, takes matters into her own hands. She makes her clunky black shoes sparkle and glitter -- as a pair of party shoes should! The message may be a little confusing, even to adult readers -- was Jamela right to decorate her school shoes? But kids will be instantly drawn to the happy, creative protagonist, whose love of life shines through all she touches. Just don't be surprised if they all want to decorate their shoes after reading her story.

The watercolor illustrations are happy and festive though pastel in tone. Faces are sensitively painted, which adds to the personality of the story. Though the story is universal, the chicken in the house, the tropical fruit vendor on the neighborhood street, and the inclusion of phrases from the South African Xhosa language gives us a clearer sense of Jamela's world.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about choices that need to be made when buying clothes: What makes a pair of shoes practical or impractical? Should the parent or the child make the final choices? Would you expect your parents to be angry if you decorated your clothing without talking to them first? Families might also talk about birthday wishes and expectations: What kinds of things do you hope for on your birthday? What if things do not turn out as you wish? Finally, families who read this book might enjoy spending time together decorating items of clothing.

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