Happy Birthday To You



To each of us who has enjoyed a piece of birthday cake, the strains of “Happy Birthday to You” are as familiar to our ears as our own names. Yet how many people know the origin of the tune and its place in American history? In 1889 Patty and Mildred Hill, two Kentucky sisters, wrote the words and composed the melody of “Good Morning to All” for their kindergarten students. Initially written as a simple greeting and welcome, they later changed the words and birthday celebrations were forever altered. But it wasn’t until 1935 that the sisters’ song was fully copyrighted and their names duly credited. Margot Theis Raven, the author of such inspiring children’s books as Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot and Let Them Play, relates the story behind one of the most famous and oft-sung songs in the world.Margot Theis Raven’s award-winning books are often set against powerful historical backdrops such as America’s civil rights period. Her books for Sleeping Bear Press include America’s White Table and Let Them Play, which was named a 2006 Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. Chris Soentpiet’s numerous books include My Brother Martin and Peacebound Trains and reflect his interest in people, history, and culture. He has won several prestigious awards such as the International Reading Association Children’s Book of the Year. Chris lives in Flushing, New York.



Chris Soentpiet

Chris Soentpiet (SOON-peet) is the recipient of the NCAA Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work and Parent’s Magazine Best Book of the Year for Something Beautiful. His other prestigious honors include the International Reading Association Book Award, for More Than Anything Else, Molly Bannaky and Coolies, which also won the Parents’ Choice Gold Award. Peacebound Trains was awarded a gold medal from the Society of Illustrators. Chris’ stunning realistic watercolor plays with the illumination of light. A Korean-born adoptee, Chris’ multicultural background and experiences are reflected in his choices of distinct cultural and historical settings for his books. To promote the love of children’s literature and the arts, Chris enjoys speaking at schools and conferences across the country.



Hardcover, 40 pages
Published August 20th 2008 by Sleeping Bear Press (first published June 3rd 2008)
ISBN 1585361690 (ISBN13: 9781585361694)
GoodReads link



Bill Martin Jr. Picture Book Award Finalist, Runner-up, 2010





This is the title that I shall read aloud to classes before emphasizing my lesson on copyright and giving credit to the original writers of information. The pages “Footnote to History” take this book beyond a beautifully illustrated celebration of how a song was created to an insightful understanding of the need for and process of obtaining copyright for original material.

Diane Chen for School Library Journal,
September 8, 2008


The Louisville Courier-Journal
October 4, 2008

The most frequently sung song in the world was written in Louisville 119 years ago by a young teacher and her sister, an accomplished musician. “Happy Birthday to You” is the song, and it’s also the title of a beautiful new children’s book that deserves a place in every Louisvillian’s library.

Author Margot Theis Raven has done her research, and for local readers much will ring true. Patty Hill got her job in the city’s first “kindergarten” by reading an advertisement in The Courier-Journal. She was so successful as a teacher that she left for New York, where she became a leading educator at Columbia University’s teachers college, considered then and now one of the finest in the world.

Her sister Mildred was a musician who taught generations of Louisville students. Her simple melody was first published with the title “Good Morning to All.” The melody caught on — but with new lyrics — and the birthday song was the hit of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. Later, it was sung on the radio and swept the world.

But for decades the Hill sisters failed to get proper credit (or any compensation). One night in the early ’30s, Patty Hill was sitting in the audience of an Irving Berlin Broadway musical when she heard her song being sung on stage.

Though Mildred had died in 1916, Patty sued to regain the copyright, and a court awarded it to her in 1935. After Patty’s death in 1946, all proceeds from the commercial use of the song went into a foundation for early childhood education. Every year new earnings of between $1 million and $2 million go into that fund. And they will continue to do so until 2030, when the copyright will expire.

Each one of us — without exception — has a memory about the Hill sisters’ song and the merry times when it has been sung. My own has to do with my mother, who each year on my birthday (whether I was in Louisville, New York or even Tokyo) would phone me first thing and sing the song.

This is the first year she’s not here to sing it to me, but reading Margot Theis Raven and Chris Soentpiet’s wonderful book was a poignant substitute. — Keith L. Runyon – Book editor


Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library, Evansville, IN

Did you know that they lived in Louisville?  Not far from here!  Margot Theis Raven relates the story of the sisters who wrote the words and music in 1889 and 1890, as one of the many songs that Patty Hill used to teach her kindergarten children.  She came up with the words to the songs, and her sister Mildred wrote the music to them. Happy Birthday to You! The Mystery Behind the Most Famous Song in The World includes more details of the sisters’ lives with their large family and the early years of kindergartens. Full page paintings by Chris Soentpiet add to the enjoyment of this  book.


Happy Birthday to you! The Mystery Behind the most Famous Song in the World
Margot Theis Raven
Paintings by Chris Soentpiet
Picture Book
Ages 6 to 10
Sleeping Bear Press, 2008, 1-58536-169-0

Patty Hill and her siblings had a wonderful childhood living with their loving mother and father. Their home was full of laughter and song, and both of Patty’s parents believed in educating all their children well. Patty’s mother Martha believed that little songs helped to “keep learning and tasks fun,” and she came up with lots of little melodies for her children.

When she was all grown up, Patty trained to be a kindergarten teacher. Just like her mother, she wanted to use songs to help her little students to learn and to play. Patty came up with the words for a short four line song that would serve as a “good morning” welcoming song. Then she went to her sister Mildred. Mildred was a skilled musician, and in time she came up with a simple melody that the sisters felt would work. Indeed, the song would work for all kinds of occasions, including birthdays.

Most of us have sung the happy birthday song countless times, and yet we never think much about it. Now, for the first time, children will read about the story behind the song. Now, as we read this book, we will discover that a great deal of thought and care went into the creation of this much loved simple melody.

Wonderfully written and richly illustrated, this delightful picture book will entertain readers of all ages.

Marya Jansen-Gruber
Through the Looking Glass Children’s Book Review


San Antonio Express-News (TX)
October 26, 2008

‘Student of history’ writes stories to inspire children
Author: Vincent T. Davis; STAFF
Happy Birthday to You!: The Mystery Behind the Most Famous Song in the World
By Margot Theis Raven

Author Margot Theis Raven sifts through history for stories that inspire children from 5 to 105.

She dusts the weight of long-gone years from the tales, finding the theme that resonates in her books – that one person can change the world by doing one small thing.

That trait lives on in her latest book, “Happy Birthday to You!” Patty and Mildred Hill, kindergarten teachers in Louisville, Ky., wrote songs to teach their students through play. The sisters originally wrote the song that would become the most popular song on the planet in 1889 to welcome children to play with friends each morning. It grew into a song that celebrated each child’s birthday.

Raven has written books that explore a range of historical events. They include an all-black Little League baseball team playing in segregated South Carolina in 1955 and a United States pilot dropping candy to German children during the 1948 Berlin Airlift. And there’s the story of Challenger, the orphan eagle that enlightened America about endangered birds of prey.

“I’m just a student of history,” Raven said during a phone interview from Charleston, S.C. “You can’t beat the stories. They find me.” The author of nine books connects with stories by a process she calls the “rule of three.”

The first step comes when she reads something that intrigues her and it sticks in her mind. The second involves running across the tale again, a sign that the story idea wasn’t an accident. The third step is researching historical facts about small contributions that grew to have large impacts.

Raven’s books have won national awards, including the Carter G. Woodson Book Award and 2003 Children’s Choice Award.

She began her career as a professional writer for radio broadcasts, television, newspapers and magazines.

Raven wrote her first children’s book in 1995, but the seeds of storytelling were planted years earlier. Writing a school report on the Revolutionary War allowed the 7-year old Raven to find her writing voice.

Her teacher concurred. The nun wrote a note to Raven on the report: “Margot, God has given you a gift of words, so use it well.”


School Library Journal

The story behind these words and music is truly an American tale of a large loving family blessed to share their creativity with those around them. Two Kentucky sisters, Patty and Mildred Hill-teacher and composer-created the song as a second verse to their “Good Morning to You” melody, which was shared with Ms. Patty’s kindergarten class on a daily basis.

A lovely succession of watercolor paintings depicts the latter half of the 19th century in Louisville and illuminates the thoughtful expressions and joyful faces of the Hill family. With a final historical note, readers find the record of the Hills’ service to education and eventual recognition in the academic world.

Forget what you remember about Irving Berlin’s connection with the tune – the copyright for this title was correctly assigned 45 years after it was composed, an eye-opener for history and trivia lovers in all libraries.- Mary Elam, Forman Elementary School, Plano, TX