Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The runaway dinner, by Allan Ahlberg - review

The Runaway Dinner by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Bruce Ingman. What's so great about this book? Well, for one thing, it's written in a very odd voice.

There was once a boy.
Banjo, his name was, yes, Banjo Cannon.
Well, he was a little boy, this boy,
lived in a house,
slept in a bed,
wore all the usual sorts of clothes,
socks and scarves and such,
loved his cat, named Mildred...

I mean, it sounds like Frank's Wild Years, am I wrong? "Never could stand that dog." And it kind of goes on like that the whole book.

I LOVED reading this aloud - Big Man and Mr. Three stared at me, boggled, then they cracked the hell up. It's all in the delivery when you read to kids (ga-hrrr, yes). If you can do a whole batch of Louisiana accents you will KILL with Mike Artell's Three Little Cajun Pigs (although I wrecked my voice doing the alligator in that one), and if you can sound like an infant and an old man at the same time, I'm Not A Baby by Jill McElmurry will have them rolling in the aisles.

But this book, I read it like I was speaking normally to my children. Maybe my version of speaking normally isn't like everybody else's, but it was a real joy, and the kids thought it was hysterical.

And also the story is good and the illustrations are too. The art is kind of plain and naive, but that gives it a lot of room to be witty and clear.

In the end, the errant sausage's life is saved (oo, sorry - spoiler!) by the predictably prim admonition from Mom, "Don't eat that! It's been on the ground!" It usually sets my teeth on edge when Mom is the downer, the kibosh, the vaudeville shepherd's crook yanking em back when the kid attempts to reach, but in this case the happy, anarchic conclusion is reached only through the offices of Mom the Rule-maker. The sausage sets out on an exciting independent life and Banjo gets to eat his dessert without first eating his dinner. Irony for the under-seven set!

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