Birthday Surprises: Ten Great Stories to Unwrap


"This unique collection of short stories celebrates the creative power of imagination. At Hurwitz's invitation 10 well-known children's authors have written pieces based on a single premise: a young person finds an empty box among his or her birthday gifts. The enormously varied responses range in tone from amusing to heartwarmingly sad; all provide food for thought....An excellent surprise package."?School Library Journal.

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"This unique collection of short stories celebrates the creative power of imagination. At Hurwitz's invitation 10 well-known children's authors have written pieces based on a single premise: a young person finds an empty box among his or her birthday gifts. The enormously varied responses range in tone from amusing to heartwarmingly sad; all provide food for thought....An excellent surprise package."—School Library Journal.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Jan Lieberman
10 children's authors were asked to write a story based on the premise that one beautifully wrapped birthday gift is empty. These short stories cover every genre from fantasy to a collection of letters. Karla Kuskin's story is written in verse. In Jane Yolen's "Birthday Box," a dying mother plans a party at the hospital for her daughter but the present she leaves the child is empty. It's up to the child to uncover it's meaning. Writing is like a thumbprint, no two stories are alike. Not only a great read-aloud but what an inspiration for having children share their ideas on this same theme. 1997 (orig.
School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-This unique collection of short stories celebrates the creative power of imagination. At Hurwitz's invitation, 10 well-known children's authors have written pieces based on a single premise: a young person finds an empty box (beautifully wrapped) among his or her birthday gifts. The enormously varied responses range in tone from amusing to heartwarmingly sad; all provide food for thought. In the selections by Barbara Ann Porte, Ellen Conford, and Richard Peck, selfish girls fail to see or appreciate the symbolism of their gifts while Pam Conrad, Ann Martin, and David Adler depict children who understand the love their gifts represent. On a more somber note, Jane Yolen and James Howe depict characters who, while dealing with death, find courage and hope in their ``empty'' boxes. Karla Kuskin and Hurwitz herself add the lightest touches with an amusing poem and a story told through a collection of irate letters. Certainly each author handles the premise differently, but they all write with immediacy. Taken as a whole, this collection displays effective use of dialogue, vivid characterizations, accessible language, and intriguing plots that reach into the hearts and minds of preadolescent readers. The thoughtful arrangement nicely varies the pacing. This is a book to read for fun or in conjunction with writing assignments. An excellent surprise package.-Maggie McEwen, Coffin Elementary School, Brunswick, ME
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780688152956
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/28/1997
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 128
  • Sales rank: 670,889
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 830L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 7.62 (h) x 0.25 (d)

Meet the Author

Johanna Hurwitz is the award-winning author of more than sixty popular books for young readers, including Faraway Summer; Dear Emma; Elisa Michaels, Bigger & Better; Class Clown; Fourth-Grade Fuss; and Rip-Roaring Russell, an American Library Association Notable Book. Her work has won many child-chosen state awards. A former school librarian, she frequently visits schools around the country to talk about her books. Mrs. Hurwitz and her husband divide their time between Great Neck, New York, and Wilmington, Vermont.

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Read an Excerpt

The Special Powers
of Blossom Culp
Richard Peck

My name is Blossom Culp, and I'm ten years old, to the best of my mama's recollection.

I call 1900 the year of my birth, but Mama claims to have no idea of the day. Mama doesn't hold with birthdays. She says they make her feel old. This also saves her giving me a present. You could go through the courthouse down at Sikeston, Missouri, with a fine-tooth comb without turning up my records. But I must have been born because here I am.

Since Mama is hard to overlook, I will just mention her now. She doesn't know her birthday either but claims to be twenty-nine years old. She has only three teeth in her head, but they are up front so they make a good showing. Her inky hair flows over her bent shoulders and far down her back. Whenever she appeared in daylight down at Sike. ston, horses reared. Mama is a sight.

But she is a woman of wisdom and wonderful when it comes to root mixtures, forbidden knowledge, and other people's poultry. We could live off the land, though the trouble is, it's always somebody else's land. Like many of nature's creatures, Mama goes about her work at night. Get your corn in early, or Mama will have our share. Plant your tomatoes up by the house, or Mama will take them off you by the bushel. She likes her eggs fresh, too.

A moonless night suits her best; then off she goes down the hedgerows with a croaker sack flung over her humped shoulder. But nobody's ever caught her."I can outrun a dawg," says Mama.

It was another of her talents that got us chased out of Sikeston. To hear her tell it, Mama has the Second Sight. For readymoney she'll tell your fortune, find lost articles, see through walls, and call up the departed. She can read tea leaves, a pack of cards, your palm, a crystal ball. It doesn't matter to Mama. But because Sikeston was a backward place and narrow in its thinking, her profession was against the law. So her and me had to hotfoot it out of town two jumps ahead of a sheriffs posse.

Mama said that fate was mysteriously leading her to our next home place. But we'd have hopped a freight in any direction. Aboard a swaying cattle car, Mama grew thoughtful and pulled on her long chin.

"The farther north we get," she said, "the more progressive. Wherever we light, you'll be goin' to school." She shifted a plug of Bull Durham from one cheek to the other. If Mama had ever been to school herself, she'd have mentioned it. About all she can read is tea leaves.

"I been to school before, Mama," I reminded her. Down at Sikeston, I'd dropped into the grade school occasionally. Though when I dropped out again, I wasn't missed.

"I mean you'll be goin' to school regular," Mama said. "I don't want the law on me — believe it."

So when at last we came to rest at the town of Bluff City, I knew school was in my future without even a glimpse into Mama's crystal ball. I well recall the day I strolled into the Horace Mann School in Bluff City, wearing the same duds from when me and Mama had dropped off a cattle car of the Wabash Railroad.

"Yewww," said many of the girls in the school yard, giving me a wide berth. It was no better inside. I was sent to the office of the principal before I had time to break a rule. She was a woman tall as a tree named Miss Mae Spaulding.

"Oh dear," she said, looking down at me, "we're going to have to find you a comb."

I was small for ten but old for my years. Miss Spaulding seemed to grasp this and assigned me to fourth grade. She took me there herself, shooing me on ahead like a chicken. The teacher, name of Miss Cartwright, took a gander at me and said, "Oh my stars."

"Perhaps youd have a spare handkerchief to loan Blossom," the principal said to Miss Cartwright over my head.

I wiped my nose on my sleeve and noticed all the eyes of fourth grade were boring holes in me. The boys' eyes were round with amazement. The girls'eyes were mean slits.

"I guess we had better find Blossom a seat," Miss Cartwright said as Miss Spaulding beat a retreat out the door.

A big girl reared up out of her desk. She wore a bow the size of a kite on the back of her head. "She'll not be sitting next to mel" she sang out, and flopped back.

Her name turned out to be Letty Shambaugh, and once again I di&t need Mama's Second Sight to see I had met an enemy for life.

Miss Cartwright cleared her throat and said, "Boys and girls, we have a new class member. I will ask her to introduce herself."

I looked down the rows of fourth grade, and they looked capable of anything. Still, I stood my ground. "My name is Blossom Culp," I said, "and I hail from down at Sikeston, Missouri."

Letty Shambaugh twitched in her seat. "Hillbillies," she hissed to the girls around her, "or worse."

"Me and Mama have relocated to Bluff City on account of her business," I said.

"Ah," says Miss Cartwright behind me, "and what ... business is your mother engaged in?"

"Oh well shoot," I says, "my mama is well known for her herbal cures and fortune-telling. She can heal warts, too. There's gypsy blood in our family."

Letty Shambaugh smirked and so did the girls around her. "Ah," says Miss Cartwright. "And are you an only child, Blossom?"

"I am now," I said. "I was born one-half of a pair of Siamese twins, but my twin had to be hacked off my side so I alone could live."

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2003

    Birthday Surprises: Ten Great Stories to Unwrap

    I read a book called Birthday Surprises. It was good but, I wish it could be better. I would have liked the stories to be a little bit more exciting. My favorite part was when Blossom Culp shows her secret powers. One chapter I didn¿t like was What the Princess Discarded. It was about a princess who was snobby and wanted everything. Alice had worked very hard on it and was disappointed. If you like stories about birthday surprises and stories that are written with the understanding that all presents are with love this the book for you.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2003

    Birthday Surprises: Ten Great Stories to Unwrap

    I think the book birthday surprises is interesting because the author put ten different stories in one book. She didn¿t write the whole story, only the beginnings and ten famous authors finished them. I liked this book because it wasn¿t a lot to read and it had a lot of good stories in it. I liked the first story because a boy and his mom could tell the future.

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