Tuesday, October 10

The Runaway Dinner

written by Allan Ahlberg
illustrated by Bruce Ingman
Candlewick Press 2006

Just as little Banjo is about to sit down to his nice little sausage for dinner it decides to get up and run away. The sausage, named Melvin, is followed by the rest of his dinner, cutlery and china, the kitchen furniture, pets and, of course, Banjo and his parents. Along the way French fries take boat trips on the lake, poor peas are culled through avian misadventure, a plate is appropriated for a Frisbee, a chair gets sat on just as it's resting all while the carrots take refuge in a paper bag. Finally, as Banjo catches up with Melvin the sausage he is forbidden to partake in his dinner as his mother chides "it's been on the ground." Happily giving up the chase, Banjo and his family (and furniture, pets, &c.) head home to desert while Melvin is seen walking hand-in-hand into the sunset with a baseball (named Marlon) he met while hiding out in the tall grass.

At the start Ahlberg's sing-songy text felt very mid-century, in that way that children's books often spoke directly to children as if being read aloud. There may be a more technical term for this (or at least a better way to describe it) but it's a lot of what I think of as reassurance text.

...the sausage -- Melvin, his name was --
jumped, yes, jumped right up off the plate...

Maybe it's because I had a creepy librarian growing up who did picture book story time with a condescending drawn out way of interjecting just such phrases whether they were written or not, but that sort of text has always set my teeth on edge. Ahlberg, however, manages not only to keep it in check but sends the story into such unexpected territories that by the end I was liking the book a whole lot more than when I started. And Bruce Ingman's child-like paintings capture the spirit and zeal of the chase even before it's begun.

It's all in the details. A pea goes missing and only after some searching can it be spotted apparently reading a small newspaper in a tree. How is it that no one at the baseball game seems to notice the bleachers are filled with fries enjoying the game? Why do the food items running around have names but the salt and pepper shaker, the table and chair, not have names? Ah, the delightful mysteries of nonsense.

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