Book of the Week: The Runaway Dinner

April 29, 2013

The Runaway Dinner by Allan Ahlberg

Images and text by Carter.

Sometimes in a picture book you just need some good old-fashioned chaos and mayhem, right? When a Design Mom reader (hi, Amy!) suggested The Runaway Dinner, I was immediately charmed. And also grateful. This book debuted in my last year as a school librarian, so I completely missed it! There’s definitely a black hole on my bookshelf from the late 2000s, because as it turned out, working in the movies is the wrong form of storytelling to me. Reading this one ripped me right back to my roots.

Banjo Cannon has an ordinary life and a cat named Mildred, and every day of his ordinary life he eats the same dinner – a sausage, three peas, four baby carrots, and a handful of fries. And then there was the day that the sausage up and left. He ran away. What follows is a hysterical romp through the park to get the dinner back to Banjo Cannon’s table.

Something I love about picture books is that what seems like a simple plot sometimes isn’t at all. The narrator drives the pace here, and does a brilliant job of creating drama and suspense. And yes, I promise – you will be on the edge of your seat, all for a handful of peas!

P.S. – I know it’s a specific request, but do you have any favorites from the late 2000s? I don’t want to miss something incredible!

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 jill April 29, 2013 at 7:13 am

We love this book!!!


2 AC April 29, 2013 at 7:22 am

My kids and I love this book as well.


3 Kelly April 29, 2013 at 8:29 am

A couple of late 2000s favorites:

(1) Literally anything from the Kate DiCamillo Mercy Watson series. Beautifully illustrated, short beginning “chapter” books. There are 6 of them – Mercy Watson to the Rescue, Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride, Mercy Watson Fights Crime, Mercy Watson: Princess in Disguise, Mercy Watson Thinks Like a Pig, and (the last and our favorite) Mercy Watson: Something Wonky this Way Comes. Cannot recommend these enough. In fact, Kate DiCamillo would be great for your author’s interview series.

(2) Chris Van Dusen’s “The Circus Ship.” He’s the illustrator of the Mercy Watson books, so it’s unsurprising that we love the illustrations of this book as well. Plus, it rhymes and includes a page where all 15 animals are hidden in the landscape. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

(3) For a sentimental favorite, try “Bear in the Air” by Susan Meyers. We love the old-fashioned drawings.

(4) For a girl who loves to pretend, the “Ladybug Girl” books by Jacky Davis and David Soman are FANTASTIC. We particularly love “Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy.”

(5) Finally (otherwise, I could go on all day), try “A Visitor for Bear” by Bonny Becker. Great for a grumbly-voiced Bear and a small-voiced Mouse. My 6-year old still loves this, and the books that follow!


4 Carter Higgins April 29, 2013 at 2:50 pm

Kelly, this is fantastic! Thank you!

I am crazy in love with Kate DiCamillo, but can you believe I have never read any of the Mercy Watsons? What about Bink and Gollie? And her new book coming out this year, Flora and Ulysses, looks awesome. I’ll check those out. And, consider her added to the list for the series!

I posted about The Circus Ship a few weeks ago…so stunning. Good pick. Love those hidden animals!

Can’t wait to check out those others. I haven’t read any of the Ladybug Girl books. Thanks for all of those!


5 Heather April 29, 2013 at 9:47 am

Carter, we like this book a lot! You have featured a lot of our faves already. I’ll take a look at our books and recommend some more in a bit.


6 Carter Higgins April 29, 2013 at 2:51 pm



7 Cissy April 29, 2013 at 9:58 am

Runaway Garden always makes my kids giggle. We also love The Curious Garden, by Peter Brown (which I summarized on my now defunct blog:

And: A Million Dots, by Andrew Clements. Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy, both by David Somans.

I’m often drawn to the more classic types by McCloskey, Ets, Tudor, etc. But there are really some beautiful, well-written, original picture books being written lately. Thanks for your excellent recommendations (and for starting this conversation)!


8 Carter Higgins April 29, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Oh, wonderful! I do love The Curious Garden, too.

I don’t know that Andrew Clements title! Fun. Do you know his middle grade novel Frindle? I love that one.

And I agree with you. Some of today’s books are snappy and trendy, but some are absolutely going to be timeless treasures…anything by Philip and Erin Stead, and Oliver Jeffers.


9 Clare Ferguson April 29, 2013 at 12:04 pm

‘The Pencil’ by Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingham is also brilliant. It tells the story of the chaos that ensues when a pencil takes a walk (closely followed by a paintbrush and some erasers!). Good fun!


10 Carter Higgins April 29, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Thanks, Clare! Already laughing.


11 Stephanie April 29, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Iggy Peck, Architect…not sure if that has been featured on Design Mom, but it is my favorite!


12 Carter Higgins April 29, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Oh, you have great taste. I LOVE Iggy Peck! Did you know there’s a new one coming out later this year by the same duo, called Rosie Revere, Engineer?! So excited for that one.


13 Sarah May 1, 2013 at 11:02 pm

“Gothic or Romanesque, I couldn’t care less…”

Easily the best rhyme ever in a kid’s book. Can’t wait for their new one!


14 Megan Ashman April 29, 2013 at 3:40 pm

I love love love this book!!! Allan Ahlberg is one of my favorite children’s authors! I was also going to suggest The Pencil, as well as The Jolly Postman. The Jolly Postman is a book he wrote with his late wife illustrating about a postman who delivers letters to fairy tale characters. Each page has an envelope to open up with a letter inside. It’s such a cute and interactive book!


15 Annette Simon April 29, 2013 at 5:30 pm

I missed this title, too. Thanks, Carter!


16 Amy April 29, 2013 at 9:43 pm

Allan Ahlberg is a genius. His Gaskitt family series is the BEST for not-quite-ready-for chapter-books kids, bar none. My latest favorite is The Twelve Dancing Princesses by Brigette Barrager (there is also a matching Memory game, which is gorgeous). Hand-in-hand with Mercy Watson goes Poppleton, by Cynthia Rylant with perfect illustrations by Mark Teague. Our latest family favorites include Quentin Blake’s Mrs. Armitage series, Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters by K.G. Campbell, and Apple Cake by Julie Paschkis, which includes a fantastic recipe. I could go on about picture books for days!


17 Carter Higgins April 29, 2013 at 10:10 pm

Love these! I can’t wait to meet the Gaskitts. Thank you!

And I love Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters! So unique and eye-catching. K.G. is the illustrator for my friend Ame Dyckman’s fall release, Tea Party Rules. You’ll have to keep an eye out for it! I love his sensibility…so much emotion in those drawn lines!

Love those suggestions. I’d love to take the next week off and just curl up in the library. :)


18 Amy April 30, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Hip hip hooray! So glad to see book being highlighted! It truly is such a great story. Thanks Carter! :)


19 Christine May 2, 2013 at 1:06 pm

I love these book talks! And everyone’s suggestions, which I immediately input into my library request form. So glad everyone is talking up the Circus Ship. It’s one of our faves. We also like The Caboose Who Got Loose by Bill Peet — a classic with lovely rhymes and wonderful pictures. My kiddos might be a little on the young side, but for those of you with smaller littles like mine…. Check out LMNO Peas by Keith Baker, Hilda Must Be Dancing by Karma Wilson, and Baby Bear’s Chairs by Jane Yolen.


20 Carter Higgins May 2, 2013 at 4:52 pm

I want to say Keith Baker is releasing a sequel to LMNO Peas! Keep your eyes pea-led. (Ha?)


21 Carter Higgins May 2, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Oh, oops! I just looked it up and completely missed it… 1-2-3 Peas came out last summer!


22 KarenD May 2, 2013 at 9:49 pm

If you haven’t seen it yet, from 2010 The Secret Lives of Princesses by
Philippe Lechermeier (Author), Rebecca Dautremer (Illustrator) is one of the finest books in print period. It is insanely information dense, and my daughters have loved it from 3 to 8, each year finding a new level of detail to obsess over. For me, it made a staunchly anti-princess mom into someone who can see the beauty in, well, beauty. Even when it is in perfectly imperfect princess form.


23 Sarah September 16, 2013 at 12:03 pm

My son and I got this out from the library a few yrs ago as I love Alan Ahlberg. We were disappointed though; for us The Runaway Dinner lacked something.


24 Nibarian October 30, 2013 at 10:35 am

Last year I read “The One and Only Ivan” by Applegate to 3 different 3rd grade classes. They come in on Fridays and I only have time to read for about 15-20 minutes each week, so it took quite a while. I normally don’t like to read the same book to so many classes on the same day, but I LOVED every minute of each reading! We laughed, we cried, we cheered!


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