Charlie’s Superhero Birthday Party
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 🙂
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.