Strawberry Shortcake's Party Fun
By Michael J. Smollin
Random House, 1983

It's like there's a party in Strawberryland... and everyone's invited!

Strawberry Shortcake's Party Fun offers an unconventional mix of crafts, cooking, and dramatic plot twists. The main hat it wears is that of a children's crafts book with a party theme. Its activities range from the relatively pedestrian (a strawberry-shaped invitation cut out of "heavy red paper") and blatant marketing (a cleverly folded invitation decorated with a picture of "Lucky Bug") to some startling ideas (like "surprise invitations to a surprise party," invitations written on heavily decorated and then deflated balloons).

All of the crafts are very simple and well within the skills of most young children or hapless adults like myself... although I still admit to difficulties with blowing up balloons. If you can use scissors, even with supervision, you can use this book!

Like its characters, however, the book wears many hats. The first change comes on page four, where the author breaks from mere crafts and adds an element of drama. Smollin has laid out the activity du jour: we are cutting more "big, luscious strawberries" out of red paper and tacking them onto our fence or arbor. (Apartment dwellers and others take note: there are no directions included for building a fence or arbor.) He has given us these simple directions, paired them with a project in cutting out flowers and birds and tacking them to sticks for further decoration, and drawn a colorful two-page spread. Apple Dumplin' is crawling around the pots, Pupcake is barking, the kids are pinning strawberries everywhere. Smollin is bored. Suddenly, inspiration strikes! Plot exposition occurs! The characters take on a life of their own!

Mint Tulip poked little holes through the tops of her berries and tied string through them. Then she hung them from the branches of a tree.

Brilliant!

After that, his imagination clearly takes flight. The directions become peppered with his excited editorial comments.

A Boat Trip
Fold a sheet of colored paper in half. Draw a boat, making sure that the smokestack or masts are on the fold. Cut out, decorate, and hang. Don't be surprised if you want to set sail for Caramel County right away!

Personally, I'm just surprised we know the name of their county. This seems like a recipe for Strawberryland voter fraud to me.

For the curious, the above was part of a two-page project in which we fold paper in half and cut out boats, birds, flowers, and of course giant red strawberries, and hang them on clothesline. But paper fruit is not enough for this book. The chef's hat is coming out: we're going to cook with sticks!

The next activity is the book's first foray into children's recipes. Strawberry is making party favors, pasting colorful paper on small empty boxes and filling them with fruit. Even more excitingly, she's spearing strawberries on what have to be the longest toothpicks in the entire world and pinning them and a name tag into an orange. "It's as simple as that!" Smollin exclaims. Meanwhile, Huckleberry is making a party centerpiece out of paper plate suns on wooden sticks poked into a watermelon. The author, clearly a little intimidated by the simplicity and oddness of his activity, begins to invent wildly. "Bananas keep the melon from rolling off the table and going SPLAT! If you stick paper flowers into the bananas, the melon will look as though it grew in the middle of a flower garden."

But that's just the beginning; these children are about to become masters in the art of the quick snack. They have put together a Birthday Party Fair, with signs on their hats telling everyone what they are selling (selling?) and little strappy trays laden with popcorn, pretzels, "flavored sodas," "ice pops," Munchy Mix, and Chocolate Cream Whip. Munchy Mix is simply "peanuts, your favorite dry cereal, sunflower seeds, and raisins." Perhaps this was before the multicolored candy cereal craze of my childhood; I can't imagine peanuts and sunflower seeds going well together with Frooty Marshmallow Dynamos or Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs.

Chocolate Cream Whip, though, is the stuff my childhood dreams were made of. For all my jokes, this was my favorite storybook when I was little. There was brightly colored food and pretty pictures on every page! And a happy ending! And the fantasy of a giant party with no adults to be mean or say no! Just endless friendly loving parties with tasty food and pretty pictures!

And Chocolate Cream Whip was the start of that.

Chocolate Cream Whip
For a delicious treat, mix together crushed chocolate cream cookies and whipped cream.
Tell me that's not genius.

The food takes a side seat here to four pages of games, but that never interested me -- although now I'm a little surprised by "Tattoo the Tattoed Lady," in which we draw an outline around one of the guests, "color in hair, a face, and a bathing suit," and let everyone tattoo her picture for prizes. But once we're done playing, we get an even better recipe.

Creamy Cones!

Basically, you give kids empty ice cream cones. (The ones pictured here are, of course, sugar cones, and I would recommend nothing less.) Then you provide unlimited whipped cream and bowls of sliced fruit, berries, chocolate chips, gumdrops, shredded coconut, and candy sprinkles, and let them mix at will for what the author rather disgustingly calls "a yummy-in-the-tummy treat." Custard and Pupcake are shown lovingly caressing the giant can of whipped cream, and I don't blame them. And the kids in Strawberryland are each smaller than their own ice cream cone! Strawberry Shortcake has nobly climbed to the top of the whipped cream canister to spray it out for everyone!

Man, are they going to be sick after this party.

And that's not all - on the very next page, they have a Rainbow Party Parade, where they march down the street carrying giant "brightly colored foods" like Nice Ice Pops (paper cups filled with with fresh fruit and fruit juice and a popsicle stick) and Orange Cranberry Punch. (I can't even describe this, other than to say it is bristling with gumdrops on sti... No, wait. That can't be it.)

And sandwiches cut into triangles and rectangles, decorated with sliced olives and carrots, which somehow become butterflies and ducks and fish! (Although as a parent I have to say it's a little late to introduce solid food into this sugarfest.)

Nor is that all. The pièce de résistance is coming up. But first, a word about the literary merits of this great oeuvre.

It really was my favorite storybook when I was little. It still evokes that gut reaction of excitement whenever I pick it up. (And I do mean gut.) That was true even though it's almost entirely recipes and activities which I never tried. But at this point, Smollin breaks free of that limiting format.

You see, there's something bigger going on here than mere crafts and snack foods. There's a PARTY. We don't know whose party, or why they're having a party, or when they're going to stop cooking for the party, or what happened to all these rainbow-haired children when the new Strawberry Shortcake cartoons came out and all of a sudden they were all skinny and tall and there was no Lime Chiffon or Crepes Suzette and what is up with that weird talking horse? Did the animals used to talk? I don't understand what's going on here!!

Uh... Anyway, so far we've heard barely a peep from the narrator as far as plot goes, and none of the characters have said a word. But that's all about to change. Here, Smollin throws caution to the wind and shows us all why we should care about all the effort they're putting in. Is it to teach us how to throw a party? No! Is it to keep us busy while our parents do important grownup things like take a nap? No! Is it to sell us more Strawberry Shortcake-related products like the all-important line of videos and toys? No, a thousand times no!

It's Strawberry's birthday!

The Cupcake Cake Surprise
Strawberry Shortcake doesn't know that her friends are planning to give her a surprise birthday party. They've even thought of a way to make the birthday cake together.

Blueberry Muffin bought a big box of plain cupcakes and mixed a bowl of creamy white icing. Raspberry Tart lined up bowls of different toppings so that each Strawberry Kid could have fun creating a little cake. Then each finished cake was taken to where the party was going to be held.

When Huckleberry Pie and Blueberry Muffin brought Strawberry Shortcake into the garden, her friends jumped up and started singing "Happy Birthday." Strawberry was very pleased that her friends had remembered her special day. Then Huckleberry said, "But we've got another big surprise for you. Step right through the arbor."

Strawberry couldn't believe her eyes. There, in the middle of the garden circle, was the prettiest, most colorful cake she'd ever seen. It made her feel tingly all over. She just looked at all the strawberries... and coconut... and chocolate shavings... and gumdrops! And she

knew it would taste delicious!

Man... it still makes me cry.

I am so doing this stuff for my birthday. Strawberry Shortcake's Party Fun: a timeless classic.

With grateful thanks to strawberryshortcake.com, without which this would have contained many more references to "That place where they live" and "That little dog thing."