When Charlie requested a superhero themed birthday party (upon my asking) I thought, sure… sounds fun. On my usual Saturday morning ‘pinning’ session (coffee in hand, kids watching Moana, Brian sleeping in) I started looking for some ideas. I had NO intention of going all out nor doing something that would potentially have led to a mini-meltdown during the busiest time of my year. But as I was searching for inspiration for this theme, I found very little. There were really cute ideas but not the usual well-styled photography that really gets you excited to execute the idea. So I did what any over-achieving-often-mommy-blogger-content-creator would do – I decided that due to lack of inspiration out there, I Emily Henderson would take it upon myself to create that superhero party content. Where there was a demand, I would help supply.
But I wasn’t doing all this for Charlie and certainly not for our friends. I actually fundamentally don’t believe in going all out for your kids birthdays. But I did and I need to explain myself:
1. I genuinely like taking attainable simple ideas, and making them better through the choice of materials and styling. Furthermore, I love sharing said ideas with others. It’s why I got into styling in the first place and why this I push myself, creatively (and in life) on this blog. Creating beautiful content makes me so happy and generally fulfills me as a person.
2. The world needs more superhero party content. I am not the only mom in the world who has searched and searched for pretty superhero themed party inspiration and hasn’t found it – It was/is my hope that my hard work shooting this party would lead to internet traffic on this blog, which is good for business and the brand. You see, I realized that the reason there is a gap in this market is that the only people who have the budgets and ability to create, style, shoot (professionally) and post a beautifully curated themed party are magazines and higher end blogs, and generally they all stray away from anything licensed (like Marvel superheroes). They’ll shoot ‘trains’, ‘dinosaurs’ or ‘pirates’ parties because they aren’t proprietary – but ‘Captain America’ is generally off the table. So I was like, OOOOOHHH, this post could really HIT. Charlie will like it, I’ll have fun, our friends will enjoy the decor, you may like it and it may have long-term good traffic via pinterest and google searching.
3. It was “sponsored post” season, which is like march madness for photo shoots and creatively I NEEDED to do something that was just for me and you to prove to both of us that we don’t just create and shoot when paid (NOT that that is a bad thing but we need to remain balanced over here).
4. I was feeling super guilty about how busy I was at work and genuinely wanted Charlie to feel special on his special day and not have a last minute thrown together party – AS IF HE WOULD CARE, NOTICE OR REMEMBER. But guilt effects a mom’s brain in a way that you can’t control and my brain told me that if I was going to be working so much, at least some of it needed to be geared towards my family. My kids helped a lot with the decor (cutting ‘windows’ and drawing streets) and having me around those three days before the shoot was fun for all of us. It was an excuse to be near them and call it “work”. And that, I will never regret.
This lady (me) likes a disclaimer, apparently. I just want to be clear that what you are about to see isn’t NORMAL nor necessary – and yet this post has ideas and inspiration that will hopefully make your next superhero party a little easier and fun to create.
My ultimate goal is to show you many very simple and inexpensive ideas – nothing here costs a lot nor requires any special skills, although some took hours (HOURS) to achieve. Pick a few of these, but not all. Let’s not get carried away, shall we?
I started with a main motif – a theme in which I could build. Trying to do ‘all superhero’ at the same time was actually easier and more my style than just choosing one. While Brian was like, ‘wait are you mixing Marvel and DC Comics’??? I kept repeating, ‘We are inclusive to all superheroes at this ridiculous fantasy party’. Just ‘Batman’ themed would have been a little scary for our young kids and ‘Spiderman’ would have been spooky.
All superheroes rescue people out of buildings, right?. GREAT. That would be our theme. We’d create a city/skyscraper rescue motif and repeat it over and over. It’s a positive message (not weapons or fighting) and visually it was graphic and attractive to me.
Once I had our theme I chose the color palette – mostly black and white with hits of primary colors – reds, blues and yellow. I tried eliminating yellow because it was just SO primary but reintroduced it at the last minute because we needed it to not look so 4th of July.
We carried this black and white cityscape motif through the centerpiece, the table runner and the ‘backdrop’. December, aka the ‘the month of the cardboard box’ gave us a plethora of ‘skyscrapers’ and getting one more use of them before recycling made me feel good. We wrapped them in cheap white craft paper – like presents and thus the skyscraper was born.
We then cut out black paper ‘windows’ and glue-sticked them to the buildings. We used a variety of scales and shapes for the windows, depending on the size and shape of the building. And whatever you do, don’t worry about the uniformity of the windows – the more wonky and handmade the better (to a point). We simply folded a piece of black paper in half, then 1/2 again, then 1/2 again to get the size of the window that we wanted. Then we took scissors to cut the folds.
I had visions of a big cityscape photo backdrop with these HUGE boxes that I had wrapped (above). Those superheores don’t do the scale justice. Some of them are 5′ tall. It was a HUGE backdrop (of unnecessary proportions) The kids thought they were kinda cool, wanting mostly to knock them down, (duh), but I LOVED them. They turned out exactly how I wanted. One of my biggest regrets in life is not getting Charlie and Birdie in that shot above, reaching for a superhero, etc, showing scale. I tried but they wanted to run around and as much as you might think I force my children into shots, I don’t. I have in the past (for the real simple shoot – bribing them with ice cream and kittens, literally) and I felt like the worst mom on the planet, but MAN DO I WISH I HAD BRIBED THEM FOR THAT SHOT!!!
Because we were shooting this mostly for content I painted a backdrop with blue paint and added a yellow balloon (sun or moon) to make some more ‘pin-worthy’ photos, but obviously, you don’t need to do that.
Just a few buildings here and there drives the point home. Had I had a clean white or colored wall in my house I would have shot them there.
Hot tip: choose different heights and widths of boxes (like a city) and if you have smallish boxes tape them on top of the more medium ones to add that more tiered skyscraper effect (like below). We taped these all together with duck tape on the back so that they didn’t fall over or get knocked over too easily by rambunctious kids trying to enjoy their party.
Buildings were easy – use boxes you already have, then grab some white and black craft paper. Kids can help and man is it high impact but so much fun.
We kept this city theme going on the table runner, which might be the easiest idea to execute (below) – white paper with roads drawn all over it.
I used a sharpie for the black lines and then yellow chalk for the middle of the road. At first I drew it free-hand but it became very complicated and messy – I felt like a terrible city planner and when a road ended up right next to another road it looked weird. So I did what normal people do and I used a ruler with a pencil and mapped it out first, then went over it with a sharpie and the chalk. But it was SOOOO easy, incredibly inexpensive and frankly looked cool.
I wanted to carry the food into the theme as well because when you are overachiever you best OVERACHIEVE. But I wanted it to be simple and something that kids would actually eat. We made ‘Captain America’ peanut butter and jelly ‘shield’ sandwiches, multicolored berry bowls, corn dogs (that could have had napkin capes if I had gone full NUTSO) and popcorn in cute buckets. (if you watched my insta-story that day you’ll have seen that we bought 25 hot dogs, mini corn dogs and chili dogs from weinerschitzel because by the time I was done with the shoot which we started at 7am, our ‘food’ had been sitting out for HOURS). So no, the party itself was not ‘pin-worthy’, just these ideas/shots.
Our kids eat VERY little at parties – mostly shoving garbage into their mouths in short spurts to retain calories while they rescue those in need.
I used 2 different cookie cutters to create these sandwiches – a shield and a star. As you can tell we removed the top star so you can see the bright red jelly, inside the shield shape.
HOLD ON. I HAVE TO GO BECAUSE THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE-OFF JUST CALLED TO CAST ME AS THE ALL-TIME BEST WINNER OF COOKING ANY FOOD EVER.
Those sandwiches got stale in approximately 45 minutes … something to think about. But our kids still ate them because it’s peanut butter and jelly on WHITE bread which is a real treat. SO CUTE, if I do say so myself.
On to the cake – Remember how I said that everything was easy and attainable? Well, except for the cake (and the two dudes in costume – more on that later). Cakes by Claritza, a local baker, reached out about doing a special cake for this day and I couldn’t physically say ‘no’ once I saw her work.
We brainstormed some ideas but as you can tell, we agreed on a skyscraper themed cake and BOY was it cute.
When she arrived I immediately gasped ‘you are a cake making artist genius and this is something I could NEVER EVER EVER do for myself even if someone paid me 2 million dollars’. She looked at me like I was crazy and quickly pointed out that it was actually SUPER easy, which at first I didn’t believe. She said It was time-consuming, but no high-level baking skills needed. It was simply two square cakes stacked, with the windows cut out of black fondant. Cutting those out took a while, but otherwise, it was super simple. I bet older kids could even help. I mostly like to say ‘fondant’ in a French accent while others make said concoction.
That made me feel better because if the point of this whole post was to show achievable ideas, then this cake still fit that theme. Just because I have never achieved having fondant even in my house, doesn’t mean that I couldn’t theoretically do this. And FYI she said that this would cost around $150 to purchase which I thought was super reasonable (she gifted it, wanting link love, photography and social media instead).
It was so cute, so delicious and generally a hit. FYI she does ANY theme and her work is beautiful and cakes are delicious. If you are in LA area I highly recommend Cakes by Claritza. Check her Instagram here.
We also set up a treat/gift bag table mostly because I wanted to use that $7 tiered skyscraper (below).
Talk about bang for your buck – and man all sorts of puns in that sentence. I made a sign to celebrate it. BANG.
We threw on berry cups, but obviously anything could really don that stand – cupcakes, popcorn boxes, treat boxes, etc. I half attempted to put together some gift boxes mostly because I wanted to use those adorable containers that had girl superheroes on them. But then I realized that I think gift boxes are about as necessary as salad forks – nice to have, but more work than they are worth.
Sure, the kids like the garbage inside for 2 minutes, but they can be a waste of money, produce more landfills and create more pressure for people to spend even more money on kids parties. At the same time if it brings you joy to give little goodie bags to kids on their way out, do it, but if you are on the fence about it I’m here to say that it’s something that can be skipped (I also feel this way about goodie bags at weddings). Two weeks before this party Charlie’s best friend had a Transformers themed party with goodie bags and Charlie loved it so much that I was like ‘oh I’m going to do that’. But it’s something you can easily skip.
No superhero party is complete without 2 actors showing up in Costco superhero costumes! Listen, it’s a thing in LA because there are so many out of work performers, and it’s actually not crazy expensive ($150 for 1 hour). On Charlie’s second birthday Brian dressed up as Spiderman and it was SUCH a hit. He still thinks Brian IS spiderman, by the way, because he recognized his voice. If you are wondering if there is anything in the world that makes Brian happier than his son thinking that he is, in fact, the real Spiderman, there isn’t. When we were picking out ornaments this year Charlie pointed to a spiderman ornament and whispered (that’s you, dada) and Brian just said ‘shh’ with a wink. HE CAN DIE HAPPY.
But the point is that dudes in costumes really entertain the kids – they went on an hour-long scavenger hunt in the backyard to find something that needed rescuing. You could easily do this yourself, but it is a decent amount of work for the “performers” (they are essentially babysitting 8 kids, as a character) so Brian opted to hire out (I was neither for nor against it but it was his job to take care of the ‘dudes in costume’ part of the party if he wanted it).
Besides, Brian was busy 🙂
Boy were they a HIT. All the kids freaked out and not to sound like the messaging police, but it was all about helping other people and rescuing those in need, so I think for a themed party it also made me not feel like a garbage parent.
It was all-in-all a very fun day.
The only thing I would NOT have done is those ‘bang, pow, boom’ signs the way we did them – not because I don’t like them but because the way we did them became SOOO expensive and time-consuming.
There were none that you could purchase that were only black and white and I was for some reason SET on this. So we found some printable art online, and had them blown up and printed on super thick and dense foam core. Doing them that big cost WAY too much (I think we spent over $100) and then Emily (my styling assistant) had to cut out the shapes with an exacto knife, which I’m not kidding took 2-3 hours. I kept checking in on her being like ‘omg you are STILL cutting out Boom!!!’ So if I were to do them again (which I won’t) I would just print on normal paper and if I wanted them to be thicker (so that they can be propped places) I would put on cheap foam core that is easy to cut. Or you can be a normal person and buy these.
Getting that photo of 6 littles wasn’t easy, but it sure does make me happy.
The DIY ideas I would do again, in a heartbeat are – the buildings (just not so many of them and no need to do a c-stand backdrop), the street ‘table runner’, that cake and of course the ‘shield’ sandwiches. I wish I had time to execute the napkin capes on the corndogs because that sounded just so cute. I also attempted to wrap juice boxes in comic book pages, but was stopped at midnight the night before by a concerned husband 🙂
The rest of the decor I bought from Oh Happy Day, Oriental Trading, Etsy, and Target. Here you go if you want to get that look.
1. Spider-Man Figure | 2. Red Striped Mylar Balloons | 3. Triangle Treat Cup | 4. Black Polka Dot Treat Cup | 5. City Skyscraper Cupcake Stand | 6. Grid Canape Plates | 7. Color Block Wood Cutlery | 8. Felt Superhero Masks | 9. Superhero Favor Boxes | 10. Popcorn Boxes | 11. Blue 3′ Balloon | 12. Yellow 3′ Balloon | 13. Wolverine Figure | 14. Blue Paper Fan Set | 15. Red Paper Fan Set | 16. Thor Figure | 17. Superhero Bubbles | 18. Hulk Figure | 19. Cake Stand | 20. Pie Server | 21. Superhero Lollipops | 22. Iron Man Figure | 23. Red Striped Scallop Napkins | 24. Classic Party Plates
P.S. Don’t worry, we gave the ENTIRE party to a reader/mom in LA who’s child was also asking for a superhero party and hopefully, she’ll give them to someone else when she is done.
Big thanks to Emily, my styling assistant and Sara, my in-house photographer for working on the weekends – we generally avoid it (at all costs), but sometimes it’s necessary so THANK YOU.
My girls are now 6 and (almost) 5, and the days of me going “all out” for birthday parties are already long gone (gasp/sob!). For my oldest daughter’s 4th birthday, I took a day off work to decorate (ok, that alone makes me sound like crazy party mom). Part of that day involved….for FOUR HOURS…..hanging glitter snowflakes with fishing line from our home’s ceilings. We own two print shops, so I was also able to spend the weeks before photoshopping/printing/cutting/OBSESSING while at work. Man, those were the days of making childhood dreams come true within the walls of our own home…..Now we choose more “activity” based celebrations – Disneyland, party for friends a child’s museum…..basically events that are less work for me!
Super cute – the DIY factor is pretty great here. That said, your sandals in the first pic caught my eye. Where might I find them??? 😉
Looks like so much fun. I love the idea of passing the party along to another mother. Thats such a good idea! We could all be doing that…hey Ill trade my little pony for your transformers party stuff.
We also gave birthday party bags to a food bank. Each child brought a box of cake mix and frosting. I provided left over party plates, forks , cups and candles and take and toss baking tray for baking the cake in. A bunch of moms brought their left over party supplies and we made life 30 party bags (we put all the supplies in those cellophane basket bags and tied it with party ribbon) for food vulnerable families. it was awesome and easy.
Jody that is such a wonderful idea. I am sure that you made some families very happy!
I read this early this morning while I was nursing my baby and then went back to bed and had this crazy dream that I was there, and you asked me too light the candles and bring the cake out. But the candles wouldn’t stay lit and I ended up carrying out the lighter to blow out. I woke up very stressed out. ? glad the party was a hit xo
I’m so glad you shared this! It cracked me up! Love those weird up-with-a-baby-then-back-to-sleep dreams. 😛
OMG That’s hysterical. Get some sleep!!!!
You are a wonderful mommy, Emily, and you are way too hard on yourself. What a cute and doable party! Now please make Brian take care of the kids for a while and go take a long nap.
The pic of Charlie’s licking his lips while looking at the cake says it all. Happy boy!
Awesome! My mom always went all out for our birthdays (seven cakes for seven years, ex: Tigger holding a bouquet of six heart shaped balloons) and I still remember all of them! Two birthdays in for our little one and his nearly Halloween birthday is prime for going all out! Also, going all out in a kids mind is easier to achieve than the Pinterest brain collective’s version. Ready to run with a superhero party this fall, thanks so much!
My first son is turning 1 in 1 month (sob!) but I already feel like I am going to be the crazy mom but am on a limited budget so I appreciate you doing this kind of things to show us how to still go all out on a budget!
Clearly this is not a post about your children’s clothes but can you please do a post about where you find such gosh darn cute outfits for them!? Birdie’s outfit is just all the heart eyes!
Birdie’s outfit is from Thimble Collection xx
Oh, if only this post had been written a month ago! My son requested a superhero themed party for his 4th birthday last month and I ended up totally phoning it in because I couldn’t find cute ideas that wouldn’t cost a zillion dollars! Love how this turned out, though, and I’ll definitely save the ideas because I have a feeling superheroes will still be a big deal when he’s turning 5! 🙂
For Emily (your assistant’s) sake, i would consider investing in a Cricut Air machine. You could make whatever signs you want fairly large and it would do all the cutting for you. You just have to glue. It’s not cheap, but considering how much you said you spent, you’d at least have something you could use over and over again in the office if needed.
My mom always made a big deal for my birthday as a kid. One of my best memories is my “dress up” birthday party when I turned 5. She bought a trunk and filled it with a bunch of silly stuff from goodwill and then all my friends brought their dress-ups too. I was FIVE and I can still remember it. And she was a fan of cake decorating, so there was always a fun cake. Though nothing that would be pinterest-worthy now. She kind of ruined me for birthdays as an adult, ha! Goes to show that spending a little time showing your kid how happy you are that they were born goes a long way, and bonus points if you enjoy doing it too (which it’s clear you do)!
And agree with previous poster about Birdie’s clothes. I want to dress like both the little girls at this party!
This is so cute! Loved all your disclaimers, makes you more real and funny. Good job with the party and theme!
My oldest wants a Monster Jam themed party and this gives me hope that I can “make it better”. He is turning 5 and this is the first year he has told me what he wants.
British bake off made me LAUGH!!!!
Also, you hair color and birdie’s hair color are the EXACT SAME COLOR.
I think my favorite part is that Charlie is wearing what must be his favorite tee shirt even though it might not fit him anymore 🙂
I looooooooove that you upcycled cardboard to create this party decor! It’s so doable and creative and wonderful for kids to see the repurposing of one thing into something else. The food, the cake, the superhero babysitters…well done, mama!!!
Emily, you are just an awesome human! Thanks for sharing this, soup to nuts, I’m going to do this for 4 year old superhero-obsessed boy here in Philadelphia this summer. Clicking the links and ordering after I finish thanking you! THANK YOU! – Rana
I loved creating birthday parties for my son when he was little. One year, we did an evening campout in front of the living room fireplace, with sleeping bags, night sounds, flashlights, stories and games. We made smores in the fireplace. Another year it was a scavenger hunt in our neighborhood and fishing in the jacuzzi for prizes. So fun!
Super cute! And this doesn’t look that crazy to me at all for a kiddo party, but keep in mind that’s coming from a professional wedding planner whose kids parties are featured online too….but really, I’m right there with you.
I’m sorry, but this is so over the top. You spent hundreds of dollars and way too many hours (yours and your employees) for content, at the expense of paying attention to your son and his party.
Buying double food because the first batch couldn’t be eaten?
Asking someone to donate a cake for free publicity?
Paying $300 for actors – when your son really loved your husband being a superhero.
The sandwiches were adorable, but the rest is so crazy. You would have been better off spending time with your son.
Your constant need for validation and approval is very sad.
Do you really need to go out of your way to shame someone on the internet? This is her job. If you feel that way, why read or post at all?
Anne, that’s not a very kind thing to say.
You in fact are choosing to read this blog. You can make another choice. Negative Is not needed here.
This comment is unnecessarily harsh, Anne. Who cares? If you don’t like it, move onto another, not “over the top” blog. Judging someone’s parenting and calling them “sad” is super rude.
Shaming a woman for going her job? Yikes, I thought that nowadays women thought twice before doing that.
Shame on you Anne. What is actually very sad is your need to make such rude and shaming comments hiding behind the anonymity of the internet. Would you say this to her face, in real life? The rules for the internet are the same as in real life: if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.
I don’t think you need a disclaimer. You are a journalist, content-creator. Some things I, as a daily reader, will be more interested in reading. Others, I will skim through. For example, I’m not super into the fashion most days. Or, if you don’t have kids, you won’t understand a cute birthday party and would skim it or leave obnoxious judgey comments, (if doing that is your thing). I don’t find this party at all over the top. This was a calm, sweet birthday. I, myself, have been a children’s performer multiple times. I have been auctioned off for charities as a children’s performer (ballerina Barbie anyone?). When my sister and I were in high school and college, we had a red power ranger costume. We were busy every weekend for parties at our local swim and tennis club. One of us would wear the costume and the other would be the photographer or bad guy. Most of the parties in my neighborhood are done in venues because people don’t want the mess or fuss in their house. The fact that you did yours at your house, already made it down to earth. 🙂 You still aren’t full-blown LA in… Read more »
Ugh. I hadn’t read the comments yet before posting above. Maybe you DO need a disclaimer because people get jealous and are looking for ways to shoot you down. Thank you for continuing to do this blog and be vulnerable and tell the truth. You “Dare greatly” as Brene Brown says, everything you write a post. The haters will always hate I guess. Oh–and I totally get why you would hire performers. Having a party is work and requires so much energy! While I said earlier that I have been a children’s performer at birthday parties for years, I don’t do it now because I am a parent and I am too tired! Then you have to be “ON” and can’t help or talk to your guests. The spouse has to be out of costume just in case anything goes wrong! This party must have gone smoothly and I am so happy that Brian got a moment to have a beer with a pal and hold your daughter! Lots of parties never get that moment!!!! Also, some kids have melt downs because they have to share mommy or daddy as the performer with the other kids at the party. As… Read more »
Love this! It has been really cold and my girls have been sick so we have been stuck in the house. When I saw this it inspired me to get out a roll of craft paper and draw roads and street signs. The girls got really into it, driving their cars on it and drawing trees and houses. We even flipped those Starbucks coffee holders (the ones that hold four cups) over and made mountains. It gave them hours of fun. Thanks for the inspiration.
PS: my daughter loves super heroes so if that trend sticks I will be coming back to this post for her birthday in September.
You might be slightly crazy in the best possible way … but that’s why I read your blog. Yes, there are lots of ideas we can dial back and re-create a similar party that kids will enjoy just as much. As for overdoing it … I’m a little guilty too. I made bat cupcakes for my four year old grandson’s school party that the moms oohed and awed over and the kids never noticed anything but the cupcake.
On the other hand, I’ve done treasure hunts for same grandson (kidnapped his stuffed puppy and he had to follow clues all over the house to “rescue’ it). He still remembers it and sort of kind of wants to do it again even though he’s turning twelve!
This is my favorite post in a while! How fun and down to earth! They all look like they had lots of fun!!! You go mama!
My favorite bit is that you passed all of the decor on! My son once requested “shapes” as his party theme, and I made tons of shape-themed decor out of construction paper–pennant banners, garland, and mobiles. I loved it so much I donated it all to Goodwill, but it probably just got recycled. 😉
Great post! This may be a stupid question but did you have any other activities besides the scavenger hunt? I’d like to have a backyard party as well but am not sure what kind of activities to plan for 25-30 kids (ages 3-5). Do I need to plan anything at all or can i just leave the kids to run around?
By the way, Birdie looks just like you!!!
I’ve been thinking about lower cost options for families with super hero loving kids … I love a post that gets m own creative juices flowing. Ask the kids to come in their Halloween super hero costumes or make a stack of capes (we’re talking cut up sheets with ties). Ask a friend to face paint. Lots of bakeries make superhero cakes.
As a mom of little ones Charlie and Birdie’s ages, I LOVE this post, and I think all of it is actually really achievable on a budget. I don’t think it’s over the top – nothing here is crazy indulgent, nothing is particularly expensive that couldn’t also be done cheaply. We DIYed a fully themed ocean birthday for my then three year old daughter, and yes, it requires work, but she got so much joy out of making fish invitations, seaweed decorations, etc. As for duplicate food… that’s just a fact of life for photo shoots. Brilliant, non-generic, creative content that’s also achievable by pretty much anyone. Thanks for such a fantastic post, and for sharing Charlie’s birthday with us all 🙂
I think that this is really great!
see this link
Did you seriously just make your son’s b-day party all about you, the pictures you could take, and the publicity it would get you on Pinterest?
Yes, yes you did.
This is the most awful and self-obsessed piece of writing I’ve read for a long time.
You are a TERRIBLE mother.
And besides that, the party looks terrible, cheap, and inspirationless.
You should be ashamed.