I'm digging way back to 1932 for my first suggestion, Ask Mr. Bear by Marjorie Flack. You may recognize the name, Flack also wrote The Story About Ping, the much loved tale of the duck who gets separated from his family on the Yangtze River. Ask Mr. Bear is a simple story of a boy, Danny, who doesn't know what to get his mother for her birthday, so, he asks his friends. His friends happen to be farm animals. Everything the animals have to give, Danny's mother already has (eggs, wool for a blanket, etc.). Finally the animals suggest asking Mr. Bear. Unfortunately, no one wants to go with him to find the bear, so he ventures into the woods alone. I won't spoil the surprise, but considering this book is for 2-4 year olds, it shouldn't be too much of a mystery!
Ask Mr. Bear is a winner for preschool story hour since it contains a child-sized problem, a little drama (the woods and a possibly scary bear), and a simple, but satisfying ending. Also, it invites after-reading activity since Danny and the animals skip, then hop, then gallop, then trot, then run to find the special gift. It's the perfect way to get the wiggles out of a group!
For a little older group, look for Deborah Lee Rose's Birthday Zoo. This cute picture book introduces some new and interesting animals through its use of rhyme. For example,
"What do we do?"
Asked the emu.
"Make everyone happy,"
said the okapi.
"But where to begin?
asked the shy tamarin.
"Blow up balloons,"
puffed the raccoons.
Forcing a rhyme by using an exotic word doesn't usually work, but it does here! (Please, please, please make sure your end rhymes are not forced! As a former children's librarian I can't tell you how many picture books I had to reject for story hour because the end rhymes were awful, or they didn't scan...but I digress.) The illustrations by Lynn Munsinger are delightful, and she even adds a little lesson by including a recyling bin in with the party mess.
My final birthday book recommendation is Whopper Cake by Karma Wilson and Will Hillenbrand. It's Grandma's birthday and
While Grandma runs some errands,
Granddad ties his apron tight,
props the tattered cookbook up,
and sets to do things right.
(Right odd, that is...)
Of course Granddad is an experimenter, if 2 cups of sugar are good, then 23 pounds of sugar must surely be better. As you can imagine the resulting birthday cake is enormous and must be eaten by everyone in town.
A little older group of listeners, first or second grade, would love this, because by that age, they usually understand the humor of incongruity. Wilson includes a recipe for a normal-sized chocolate birthday cake.
We more "sophisticated" birthday people get margarita cheesecake for our birthday. You'll find the recipe here. (Hint: save yourself the bother of making a crust by purchasing a premade graham cracker one!)
A slightly different version of this post appears on my library blog. It's my birthday, so I'm treating myself to one less thing to do!