The Birthday cake

by Sven Nordqvist, Bokförlaget Opal AB, 2005


Doug Boilesen 2022

A story about a man baking a pancake cake for his cat that has three birthdays a year might seem like an unlikely book to have so many illustrated phonographs in it.

"The Birthday cake," however, is more than a book with its five gramophone illustrations created by Swedish story-teller and artist Sven Nordqvist (six counting the miniature gramophone on the book's cover - see above). For Friends of the Phonograph, this book speaks for itself beyond the number of illustrated gramophones and is one of the most delightful and whimsical books on Phonographia's bookshelf of PhonoLiterature.

The first appearance in this story of Pettson's' gramophone begins the sequence of events that must take place if the pancake cake for the birthday of his cat Findus was to be made. For Pettson it was logicially simple: without flour there would be no cake. And that's where the gramophone would literally be heard and play is role.

Pettson needs to ride his bike to town to get the flour for the birthday cake. Unfortunately his neighbor's bad-tempered bull is near the woodshed where Pettson has to go to get a ladder.

Why is moving the bull in the critical path of baking the birthday cake? Pettson explains problem to Findus as follows:

"if we can't trick the bull into moving, I can't fetch the ladder and then I can'gt get the fishing rod down from the loft and then I can't get into the shed and get my tools and then I can't mend the bike and then I can't ride to the shop and buy some flour and then there'll be no birthday cake.

Pettson also knew how he might be able to trick this bull.

So he went to the sitting room where he kept his gramophone with its hornshaped loudspeaker and then picked up the gramophone with a record.


Pettson also took the red and yellow flowered curtains to tie onto the tail of Findus.

He then went to the field to place the gramophone at the gate where the bull was sleeping. Pettson wound it up and put on a record and played its song called "To sea" sung by Jussi Bjorling.

"This should wake anyone up," chuckled the old man delightedly.

The bull wasn't happy about the noise from the record and charged towards the gramophone. But now Findus could help and with the red and yellow-flowered curtains tied around Findus's tail the attention of the bull was captured. Findus managed to be faster and to eventually tire out the bull so that Pettson could retrieve the ladder.

There were many other 'tasks' that had to be completed before Pettson was finally able to fix the tire, ride to the shop to buy the flour, return home and then bake the birthday cake.

Suffice it to say that by the final page it's time for the birthday party with Pettson sitting in the garden "drinking coffee and eating cake and playing Viennese waltzes on the wind-up gramophone, just as they usually did when Findus had a birthday."


To see the other phonograph illustrations and the steps required before the bike tire could be fixed it's highly recommended that you buy the book.

Special thanks to author and illustrator Sven Nordqvis who is now an honorary Friend of the Phonograph.