Reader Brannon Anderson from the Chicago area sent us in this amazing French-themed birthday party.

“We recently threw a Madeline party for our three-year-old, Emmeline. We tried to re-create the Jardin des Tuileries in our yard with a pool for the kids to push their sailboats in. We also had rain gutter races, where the kids could blow their boats down the gutter using straws. Stuffed Genevieve’s—Madeline’s dog—were the prizes. For the rain gutter, we just bought 10 foot sections from the hardware store, with a right and left end cap placed on each edge. They sell special caulk that seals the end caps in place, and we lined any sharp edges with duct tape. We simply set up a few piles of bricks under each one to have the gutters be at toddler height. (This is a bit of a spin off of the rain gutter regatta that many Boy Scout troops hold each year.) Each child had a straw and developed their own method for pushing their boats down the gutters, some blowing the sails, some blowing the water behind the boats, some using the straw to push the boat itself.”

The Lowdown:

I ordered the boats off of Etsy. I did ask for a quantity discount, which helped on the prices tremendously. If people wanted to be more creative, I am sure it would be simple to have the children build their own boats to sail.

LindsayLetters did the invites, signs, menus, stickers and thank you cards for me. The little Madeline on the invite has a real bow in her hair and a real cloth sail on her little boat. Lindsay did the  calligraphy on the inner red envelope and typed out the addresses and hand-painted the red bow on the outer envelope. I found vintage unused US postal stamps with a ‘French’ feel to them to use for the postage.

The French/Madeline theme was so easy to run with as far as food and sweets. We did go through a lot of trouble to create a mini fountain, like in the Jardin des Tuileries for children to also push their boats in. To disguise the blow up pool I had to have a ton of potted plants and flowers, and you could still see a lot of the pool. (It was hard to find a pool without designs on it! The one we used can be found on Amazon at this link. However, the children preferred the gutters, so the pool wasn’t used as much as I had anticipated.

The easiest part were the little red Madeline bows I made for all the girls—grown ups included. I just bought inexpensive snap clips and tied a length of wired red ribbon on each one, leaving the tails to stick up like Madeline’s bow does.

We sent our guests home with home-made madeleines as favors.

Photos Christine Anderson

(By the way, we’d love to see your pictures—preferably horizontals—of silly, funny, clever, or otherwise show-stopping birthday cakes that you or someone you know has made. And if you’re really inspired, we’d love to see the whole party. Send us an email to Please include your name, how you would like to be credited, the occasion, the recipe, and the inspiration or story behind the cake. Images must be 550×380 pixels wide.)


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Comments (3)


  1. Posted by: Jen

    What an absolutely lovely and charming looking party.

  2. Posted by: Barbara

    so so cute. especially the multi-fabric sail boats. mine loves madeline… although he’s a boy so no themed party for him :) right now we’re planning for his 3rd b-day in October and the inspiration in this column is phenomenal. thanks!

  3. Posted by: Maia

    This is absolutely everything about it!

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