terry border dishes on happy birthday, cupcake! (+ a giveaway)

Guess who’s having a birthday?

You may remember this pretty-in-pink frosted cutie from Terry Border’s delightful debut picture book, Peanut Butter and Cupcake (Philomel, 2014), where she boinged on a pogo stick and bedecked a castle with colorful sprinkles.

This time it’s Cupcake’s birthday, and she’s planning the perfect themed party with the help of her best friend Muffin. But for every one of Cupcake’s bright ideas (beach party! boat party! makeover session! musical chairs! getting down with the limbo!), Muffin counters with reasons why they wouldn’t work (drippy guests! sick soup! disgruntled burger! squished guest of honor! decapitation . . . gulp).

Talk about a party pooper.

What’s a birthday girl to do? Well, she could follow Muffin through the garden gate. Won’t tell you what happens, but let’s just say it turns out to be the happiest, sweetest, tastiest celebration ever (I wanted to devour all the party guests). Looks like Muffin has topped himself. ๐Ÿ™‚

As a longtime Terry Border fan, who fully appreciates grown men with serious photography chops wire limbing ordinary objects in order to anthropomorphize them, I’m tickled pink (with lotsa sprinkles) that he’s now doing children’s books.

I loved Terry’s first two “adult” books (Bent Objects: The Secret Life of Everyday Things, Bent Object of My Affection: The Twists and Turns of Love) for their offbeat humor, whimsy, cleverness and unique artistry, but I admit I may be a teensy bit partial to his picture books.

Sure, he’s wired up crayons, paperback books, rulers, magnets, corks, toilet paper rolls, toothpaste and toothbrushes as part of his legendary Bent Objects Project. But all (rather than most) of the characters in his picture books are FOOD, and both stories include alphabet soup! Does this man have his priorities straight or what?

In Happy Birthday, Cupcake! Terry simply has too much fun with his props and set-ups, and as with all his quirky faceless sculptures, he manages to convey relatable emotions and tickle the funny bone in just the right spots. Kids will love the eclair dog on a leash, the guitar-strumming pear, The Musical Fruit (beans band), and all their familiar favorites (ice cream cones, donuts, hamburger, cookies, candies, waffles, chocolate bar, pretzels) whooping it up big time in their party hats. I love that friendship is at the heart of both his children’s books — there’s a gentle reassurance that all will be well, that nothing matters more than enjoying the company of others. ย 

Now, don your spiffiest cupcake wrappers, cause Terry Border’s here! It’s SO nice to know I’m not the only one who likes to pose inanimate objects, play with food, and otherwise indulge the mischievous child within. We thank Terry for noshing with us today and sharing a favorite recipe. Yum!

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What sparked the idea for Happy Birthday, Cupcake!?

My editor loved Cupcake’s appearance in the first book, Peanut Butter & Cupcake, and wondered if we could do a story about her birthday. From there, the story came from my wife and I’s experiences of having to think of something different every year for our daughter’s birthday. Heaven forbid a child just has friends over for cake and pin the tail on the donkey these days! It’s some annual silly pressure I felt every year — how can we have a fun celebration for our daughter without spending very much money! In the end of course, it’s all about being with friends.

Which is easier โ€“ creating a Bent Objects book for adults or a picture book for kids? Was it challenging thinking in terms of age appropriate humor?

Both are challenging in different ways. The relatively long narrative in the children’s books is something I’m still learning about. Story arcs, a variety of camera perspectives . . . stuff like that is difficult.

Compared to that, crystalizing something funny into one single photo doesn’t seem so hard sometimes!

As far as the age appropriate humor, it’s not so bad. I love children’s books (we read many MANY to our girl when she was small), so it’s not hard to get into that frame of mind.

Which of the food characters in Happy Birthday, Cupcake! do you most identify with and why?

It wouldn’t be her friend Muffin, because I can’t keep a secret. I’d have to say Ice Cream because I can’t take hot weather either.

Just wondered if you usually eat all the food items after photographing them โ€“ any hesitation or guilt?

My wife and daughter are the real culprits here, although I’ve enjoyed my fair share of extra cupcakes. No guilt at all! ๐Ÿ™‚

Which spread was the most difficult to set up and shoot?

The boat scene took forever. Making the boat, and then posing the characters so they all were doing something was challenging. I sent the first go around with that shot, where I had the boat level with the horizon. My editor asked if it might look better tilted, and it sure does!



Which part of the picture book process do you enjoy most โ€“ coming up with the idea, writing the story, making the food items and props, or taking the photos? Anything especially frustrating, funny, or surprising happen when working on this book?

Making the props and food is the slow part for me that I don’t care for a lot. Writing the story is the most difficult and unnatural thing, but I really enjoy the challenge.

The most surprising thing I learned making this book is that chocolate doesn’t get very drippy when it melts! I bought a mold and made the chocolate bar for the beach scene. When it came to make him look hot and sweaty (drippy) he really didn’t work with me. Chocolate just gets really soft, and will bend and fall over, but it doesn’t “run” if you know what I mean. I had to melt some other chocolate and sort of paint drips on the chocolate bar. Who knew?

Whatโ€™s your favorite scene in the book? Could you please share an outtake and explain why it was rejected?

I guess my favorite scene is The Musical Fruit, because I have a juvenile sense of fart humor. ๐Ÿ™‚

[Here is] an early book spread where Cupcake and Muffin are talking about a possible birthday party at the zoo. Muffin points out how they might get eaten. That was a little too dark for my editor, Jill. ha!

Were you a funny kid? What were some of your favorite books growing up?

I was funny to my family, but I was too quiet for anyone else to know I could be clever or witty. I’d stumble over myself if I even tried.

The Hitchhikers Guide series was always a favorite of mine as a teenager. From a very young age I liked to read comedians’ autobiographies, an example would be David Brenner’s Hot Pretzels with Mustard. Recently I read Harpo Speaks, written by Harpo Marx late in his life. SO fantastic. Loved it.

Ultimate fashion statement.

When it comes to surprise parties, would you rather be the planner or the guest of honor? Whatโ€™s your ideal way to spend a birthday?

I hate to be either. No thanks! I’m glad other people enjoy those types of things, but I’d rather spend my birthday having dinner with the family and then watching a classic, funny movie.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m finishing a children’s book for 2016 about a little carton of milk who has a tough first day at school. I just have the cover left to create.

Do you like to cook? Please share a favorite recipe with us.

This probably barely counts as a recipe, but my daughter loved this growing up and started making it herself. Not exactly gourmet stuff, but I like.


  • 6 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 6 slices of bread, cubed (I just tear it up)
  • l lb. sausage, cooked and crumbled
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. mustard
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups cheese

Mix it all up and bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees F in a 9×13 or some such container.

Change up the cheeses and types of bread for some variety!

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written and illustrated by Terry Border
published by Philomel, July 2015
Picture Book for ages 5+, 32 pp.

โ™ฅ Click here for cool downloadableย Activities.

โ™ฅ Visit Terry’s Official Website to learn more about all his books and his brilliant Bent Objects Project.

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For a chance to win a brand new copy, please leave a comment at this post no later than midnight (EDT) September 22, 2015. You may also enter by sending an email with “CUPCAKE” in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan.com.ย Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Good Luck!




wkendcookingiconThis post is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your best bib and apron, and come join the fun!



*Spreads from Happy Birthday, Cupcake! posted by permission of the publisher, text and illustrations copyright ยฉ 2015 Terry Border, published by Philomel Books. All rights reserved.

**Additional photographs copyright ยฉ 2015 Terry Border.ย 

Copyright ยฉ 2015 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. Al rights reserved.


51 thoughts on “terry border dishes on happy birthday, cupcake! (+ a giveaway)

  1. Humor and sweets — what could be better?
    A carton of milk who has a tough first day of school sounds great, too.
    I liked seeing how tilting the ship made the image more interesting.
    Thanks for sharing this interview, Jama!


  2. Cupcakes should have birthday parties too. What a cute idea. I will have to get a copy for my grandson who loves cupcakes!


  3. So creative, I love the musical fruit! And cupcakes are my favorite, it doesn’t get much better than this ๐Ÿ˜€


  4. Rare is the book that makes you smile at every page. Thanks for the background and behind the scenes! I love them even more now!


  5. I miss the days of serving Terry his beverages at Starbucks, but glad I’ve been able to watch him excel and succeed.


  6. What a great interview! Now I really want to read the book! Also, I love the cupcake backpack Terry is modeling. I sure hope I see him wearing it around town. ๐Ÿ˜‰


  7. Fab interview Jama! What a fun book. I’ll chack it out with those autobiographies too. I love autobiographies and comedy _ bonus.


  8. Oh, oh, oh. LOVE! How much fun (yeah, hard work too) is that! Happy birthday, Cupcake — hope I get to bring a copy to my house. ๐Ÿ™‚


  9. โ˜บ I’ve been lurking on Terry Border’s blog forEVER, so I was thrilled to bits to see him cross over to the “dark side” of children’s lit. I love his stuff – thanks for making him welcome, Jama-j.

    Also, I could never rock that cupcake backpack because I would be hungry ALL DAY.


    1. Didn’t realize you were a Terry fan too! Yay! I would only want one of those backpacks if they were filled with actual cupcakes :).


  10. I’ve been a fan of his for many years, his work is amazing and oh so funny!!

    Like Terry, I’d rather spend my birthday having dinner with my family and then watching a funny movie (or playing a card/board game).

    My grandson Harley would LOVE that backpack. He loves cupcakes and his favorite color is pink. He just started kindergarten and insisted on wearing a pink shirt and pink socks.

    I love that there are downloadable Activities. Harley will love them.

    Thanks for the giveaway!


  11. Just finally getting around to reading this…and I love the illustrations! I hadn’t heard of his first book, so I’ll need to check that out, too. And egg casserole? It’s like a savory bread pudding – whoda thunk?? Great idea.


  12. How did I miss this? I’m glad I caught it today, since tomorrow’s my birthday!

    Where does one go to get a cupcake backpack? It certainly made me smile. Perhaps those of us who are a little older could get a cupcake change purse.


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