Running Away with the Alphabet

Lynn:  On the title page of Patrick McDonnell’s nearly wordless new picture book, The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC’s (the Hard Way) (2017), a little red cat wakes up. The door is open! Up he jumps and out he leaps, running straight into an abecedarian adventure that tickles the funny bone. The little red cat may learn his ABC’s the hard way, but I guarantee it will enchant little readers.

Each letter of the alphabet gets its own page with, as is usual with alphabet books, an example of something starting with that letter. In this case, the letter is shown in capital and lower cases, but the word or words representing it are not listed on the page. The little red cat runs into an alligator, a bear, a chicken, and a dragon, and the ensuing chase races through kingdoms, mountains, and jungles, with stops at restrooms and encounters with unicorns. Sometimes the alphabetic object is subtle but never fear, there is a key at the back to help. McConnell’s cartoon-style drawings skillfully provide a range of facial expressions that add fun to the story.

The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC's (the Hard way) by Patrick McDonnell

I recently tested this book on members of our focus group, and am happy to report that it was a huge hit with both the four-year-old, just learning his alphabet, and the seven-year-old pro, who happily spotted the clues on each page. Don’t miss this one!


Cindy: I just gave my husband another of McDonnell’s Mutts comic collections this holiday season. It was one of those gifts that’s fun to give because I love his comics, too.

In addition to alphabet concepts, Little Red Cat is a visual cumulative tale of sorts as many of the animals or people join the cat on his adventure (think “gingerbread man”), and include some sly nods to McDonnell’s previous work, like the Jj page, set in the jungle, that hearkens back to his Caldecott Honor title, Me…Jane. The book is also, eventually, a bedtime story—at least it made me want to take a “cat nap.” The final page contains the whole alphabet and a key to the word representing each letter in case readers need a little help to puzzle it out. The Little Red Cat reminds me of another favorite abecedarian adventure of ours, Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run! by Mike Twohy. You can read our Bookends post about that one here.



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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