The Day I Ran Away, by Holly L. Niner

“While Dad tucks her in, a little girl named Grace calmly recounts her day—which was anything but calm. She had a tantrum (because of some injustices involving a purple shirt and breakfast cereal) and was banished to her bedroom before deciding to run away. Understanding that kids have ups and downs, Grace’s mom wisely gave her daughter the space and time she needed to reach her own decision to return home—to open arms.

The Day I Ran Away amusingly captures Grace’s mutable moods and childlike logic. Warm, humorous digital paintings offer fun details to keep little listeners busy. Kids can compare the bedtime and daytime scenes and try to figure out how Grace got that purple paw-print on her cheek—and when it got washed away. They can mimic Grace’s facial expressions or copy her poses for some soothing bedtime yoga. And of course, they can create a safe place to run away to when the injustices of Pre-K existence become too much to bear. A pop-up tent in the yard and the haven beneath the dining room table are excellent run-away destinations, as long as you come home for dinner.”

The Day I Ran Away from Flashlight Press is like a well-choreographed dance. Three characters, two voices, three points of view, two timelines, two picture sequences, and a dog spin around each other with no missed beats. The threads fall together easily, and despite action and humor in Isabella Ongaro’s illustrations, the tone of the book is peaceful. The little girl’s growing drowsiness in the bedtime pictures makes sense. She’s been on a big adventure that never took her beyond the reach of love and safety. You’ll want to read The Day I Ran Away over again, even if you aren’t a preschooler, because there’s more to ponder each time you page through the story.

Time

Children at the picture-book stage have a tenuous grasp of time. Their abstract thought wires aren’t fully installed, so they understand time in terms of events. How many times will I go to bed and wake up before that happens? Will it be at breakfast time? Dinner time? Will it take as long as driving to Aunt Sally’s house? 

The Day I Ran Away plays with a preschooler’s time sense by running two chronologies simultaneously. The present bedtime conversation unfolds with words and pictures on the left page of each spread, and the past action from earlier in the day appears in pictures on the right. Without confusion, it puts the reader squarely into a multi-dimensional experience of time. But it’s done so naturally that little ones won’t notice that it’s happening.

Beginning at the End

The trustful connection between the little girl and her father is apparent from the first words of their conversation, but notice the illustration on the title page. It shows the little girl eating dinner with her mother, a meal that must have happened just before bedtime.  The title and cover tell us the little girl ran away, but we begin the story knowing she’s home safe now, and at peace with both parents. Like the cozy bedtime ritual, this early scene-setting creates a safe place from which to reflect on the emotions and reactions that created the chain of events. [As a parent, it’s interesting to see how the father’s calm acceptance of the story includes helping the little girl realize that her mother’s reactions were responses to her daughter’s choices.]

Beginning with the end is also an impressively subtle way of centering a little reader in the action but keeping the parents as the story’s frame. Preschoolers are the center of their own world, but parents are the first orbital ring. The book is structured the way a child’s world is structured – her all-absorbing consciousness of herself is lived inside parental creativity and guidance. This is her adventure, but it won’t have its full meaning for her until she’s told her father all about it before she falls asleep.

The Parents

The parents’ relationship is a strong message in the book, although they don’t appear together in a picture until the last page. Inside the father’s comments and questions to the little girl, you can hear his respect for the mother and his support of how she’s parenting their child. This is at least as powerful as his low-key, almost Socratic method of processing the day with his daughter.

For her part, the mother is letting this bedtime meeting happen without her input. She’s trusting the father and daughter to each other at the end of a long day, but the tone of the book tells you it’s not just because she’s tired. These two are parenting as a team, and their interactions with their daughter are thoughtfully chosen.

The Dog

In addition to his helpful contributions to the bedtime yoga routine, the dog is a wonderful buddy for his little friend. He mirrors or responds to her emotions in every picture. It’s adorable, but it’s also another talking point in the book. The dog’s facial expressions, posture, and actions are clues to the human emotions in each scene, while offering a friendly, four-legged suggestion of how to be there for someone you love, no matter what.

And Finally….

The Day I Ran Away is a proper picture book. It’s well-made, with a hard cover and thick, glossy pages. The colors are bright and attractive, the illustrations are full of life, and there are plenty of interesting details to point out and chat about as you practice paying attention and reading for meaning. The book is standard size, large enough to hold up and read to a circle of children, and just right for reading in the best sofa corner with at least two children on your lap.

The Day I Ran Away is available on Amazon in hardcover and Kindle editions. You can find Activity Guides to use along with the book here.

I received a copy of this book from Flashlight Press in exchange for this review.