Birthday party book exchange

Written by contributor Tiffany Larson.

Several years ago, my sister and I started hosting an annual joint birthday party for our children, born 4 days apart.  Not only did we want to save our family and friends from two birthday parties in one weekend but it saved us money by splitting the costs. However, there were a few details to work out.

Our Dilemma

With such a large gathering of friends and family, there would be a lot of gifts. We also didn’t want anyone to feel obligated to bring a gift for a child they were not friends with.

Our Solution

Gifts were welcomed from family and we arranged a book exchange for friends. It killed two birds with one stone: partygoers felt like they were contributing to the festivities and no one walked away empty handed.  And, in my opinion, books are one of the best gifts to receive.

The Invitations

On the invitations, we added the following verbiage:

“In lieu of a gift, please bring a new, wrapped book, appropriate for a child aged 2 – 4.”

After we had done this for a few years and parents knew what to expect, we shortened the wording to “bring 1 book for a book exchange”.

The Party

As kids arrive, we take the wrapped book and set aside. During the party, we designate the book that will go to each child.  There is not a particular method we use although we often find that children will bring books appropriate for their specific age and that helps.  For example, there are toddler aged children that come to the party who will bring a board book.  We will then make sure another toddler gets the board book.

When it’s time for the book exchange, we give the birthday children their book to open first in front of the other kids.  Once they are done, we hand out the books to the rest of the children to open.  I love the look on all of the kid’s faces – it’s like Christmas!

Some of our favorite books that have been given at the party are the Ladybug Girl series, Tea for RubyThe Woods, Pirate Girl and Tickle Monster.

We’ve been hosting the birthday party book exchange for several years now and it’s always a success!  If you are looking for a way to cut down on birthday present overload, it’s a great way to do it.

How do you cut down on birthday present overload? What are your favorite gifts to take to children’s birthday parties?


Tiffany lives, plays and works in sunny Bend, Oregon with her husband and 2 kids. When she isn't outside playing or dreaming about her next vacation, you can find her writing here.

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  1. This is a great idea! I still haven’t figured out how to cut down on the birthday (and Christmas!) presents. It seems so overwhelming for my kids who are just 4 and 2 this year. I try to stress the importance of getting together with the people we love, unfortunately not everyone has that idea. So we just try to take it slow 🙂

  2. This is a brilliant idea. We haven’t done a birthday party for our kiddo yet (she’ll be three in September and we’ve just kept things low key), but I’ve always hated the idea of lots of presents and people feeling obligated. Thanks for sharing.

  3. LOVE this idea Tiffany. And I love the idea of everyone leaving a birthday party with a “real” gift!! Genius.

  4. Christine S says:

    We just did this for my 2 year old’s birthday this weekend. We didn’t ask that the gifts be wrapped, and we just let the kiddos pick them out, as well as a small goodie bag. The flaw in that plan is the birthday girl got the leftovers! But she’s two, and didn’t end up with a book she already had. This aligns with our values, simplicity and reading.

    Next year we are going to do a school supply drive since her birthday is at the end of July, just in time for school supply sales. We want our kids to enjoy people, not gifts. Plus, grandparents spoil them enough!

  5. Nice idea. Stuff overload is something people in our culture have a hard time understanding. Many seem offended if you don’t want your child to receive 50 gifts for Christmas or birthday. Thanks for sharing your solution.

  6. I LOVE this. Such a great idea!

  7. Love, love, love!! Will use this idea for my my 2 littles’ combined party! Genius.

  8. We’ve done the book exchange for a big Christmas Party with our friends for several years. Fantastic. I hadn’t thought about it as a birthday idea, so thank you for the inspiration!

    So far, we’ve always done a “no gifts” party for my kids and all our friends have been doing the same, so it works just fine. None of them knew about getting presents at parties (just the party has been enough), let alone coordinating party favors. HOWEVER, my plan is collapsing now that we’ve moved to a new town and my kids have now attended two birthday parties with gifts. Bugger! For now, we have at least decided that we will GIVE books as gifts and hope that idea spreads.

  9. Thank you for sharing such a fabulous idea!

  10. We haven’t had a birthday party every year for our kids, but when we have, we’ve asked for no gifts please, or at _most_ an item to donate to our local crisis pregnancy center. Some folks just come and enjoy the time with our kids (our “favors” are usually a bag of “healthy” cookies), but some insist on bringing a gift anyway (which seems rude to me….I don’t at all begrudge giving your child a gift at his/her party (it’s a _gift_ not an obligation for you to give me something in return!), but I’ve specifically asked you _not_ to bring one to ours – please respect my wishes! No it doesn’t matter that “it’s just a little thing!”). I like the idea of a book exchange because it takes care of the “favors” as well.

  11. Love this idea! I think I get bored with certain books before my kids so I’m all over doing this next year.

  12. I love this idea! I have a silly question, though…if each guest is to bring a book for book exchange, how do you determine which book goes to the birthday child? Does he get one book total or one book per guest? I am a tad confused on the mathematics of the exchange.

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