Happy Birthday To You, You Belong In a Zoo

Written and illustrated by Diane deGroat
Morrow Junior Books 1999
ISBN 0688165443
Ages 4 - 8

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Gilbert can't believe that Lewis, the class meanie, has invited him to his birthday party. Could they be friends after all? When Lewis proves to be just as rotten as ever, Gilbert plots to give Lewis a present he really deserves-but an even bigger surprise is in store for Gilbert! This follow-up to the first two hits starring everyone's favorite opossum addresses issues of friendship and generosity with deGroat's renowned honesty and child-pleasing humor.

From Booklist Gilbert, a young possum, is invited to a birthday party. That would normally be good news, but the party is for Lewis, a tough kid at school who isn't very nice to Gilbert. Shopping with his mother, Gilbert realizes he doesn't want to get anything nice for Lewis, so he tells his mother to purchase a frying pan as a gift. At the party, Gilbert has fun and feels guilty about giving Lewis a substandard present. However, when Lewis opens Gilbert's present, it's a cool martian spaceship with flashing lights and rocket noises. Mom has saved the day, subtly teaching Gilbert a lesson about being sensitive and kind. Both story and watercolor pictures excel at capturing the anguish that children often feel as they try to learn the social game. Gilbert can also be seen in Trick or Treat, Smell My Feet (1998) and Roses Are Pink, Your Feet Really Stink (1996).

From Publisher's Weekly As in her prior tales starring Gilbert, deGroat's latest title and plot are both sky-high in kid appeal. The amiable young opossum sings this take-off on the birthday tune as his mother drives him home from the store, where he has spitefully chosen a frying pan as a gift for Lewis, the class bully. Lewis has informed Gilbert that he received a birthday party invitation only because his mother made him send one to all the boys in the class. ("And you better bring me a present, too, if you want any cake and ice cream," sneers the birthday boy.) Readers, privy to Lewis' lunchroom and playground slights to earnest Gilbert, will likely applaud this choice of gift - until Lewis has a change of heart. DeGroat's watercolors capture Gilbert's changing moods pefectly: readers will especially feel for Gilbert as he makes eye contact with them, conveying his panic when gift-opening time arrives, dread when Lewis prepares to unwrap his present and tremendous relief when he realizes that Mom's surreptitious substitution for the frying pan has saved the day. With its credible take on kid's emotions and social exchanges, this wry tale sends a usuful mesage to youngsters on both the giving and receiving ends of bullying.