The joy of children’s books is reading about things, and thereby living vicariously, without actually having to experience the discomforts or stress of it. Herein lies the beauty of runaways in children’s books. I remember two runaway chapter books that made me jealous for such a wonderful adventure. They bookend my list.
And these runaway kids were not even angry at their parents. It’s these independent adventures that fascinated me as a child reading these chapter books. My Side of the Mountain made me want to live in a burned out gigantic tree, subsiding by foraging off the land with a pet falcon, no less. From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler made art museums suddenly interesting.
Not all runaways are so lucky. Some run from domestic violence; others can’t control their violent tantrums. Either way, these runaway experiences are more traumatic.
Do you have a favorite children’s book with a runaway? Please share!
10. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
Sam Gribley just wanted adventure so he took off for his grandfather’s abandoned land in the Catskill Mountains, thus starting the greatest runaway adventure in children’s literature! He made it sound so enticing that other envious readers besides myself were moved to action. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was also affected:
“…I thought the Craigheads might be the only family in America that was having more fun than the Kennedys. Obssessed with falcons as I was from birth, I read My Side of the Mountain in 1964. … I entered Millbrook upstate New York drawn by its informal falconry program….My experience as a young falconer accounts in large part for my lifelong devotion to raptors and my continued interest in natural history….My years as a falconer helped drive my own career choice as an environmental lawyer and advocate. The knowledge and experience I acquired from falconers have marked my life and made me a far more effective advocate on nature’s behalf.”
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
[chapter book, ages 8 and up]
9. The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown
Mother bunny assures her young wannabe runaway that no matter where the little bunny goes, mama will be right there too! [picture book, ages 1 and up]
8. Don’t Feed the Boy by Irene Latham
Young Whit has grown up at the zoo and doesn’t get out much. That’s what happens when you’re homeschooled at Meadowbrook zoo because your mom’s the zoo director and your father is in charge of the elephants. When he meets Bird Girl, he’s intrigued. She comes to the zoo by herself. He’s eager to befriend her but when he finds out why she is always alone, he has to make a tough choice. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
7. The Boxcar Children Beginning: The Aldens of Fair Meadow Farm by Patricia MacLachlan
MacLachlan lovingly pens the prequel emulating Gertrude Chandler Warner’s voice exactly. It was difficult, though, for me to read about the happy Alden family knowing that tragedy would strike by the end of the book. Still, for kids who want to know why the Boxcar children ended up as orphans running away from their grandfather, this is a must read to this classic and cherished series. [easy chapter book series, ages 6 and up]
6. Hoot by Karl Hiaasen
Although this chapter book centers around Roy Eberhardt, newly transplanted to Florida in the town Coconut Cove, and now the bully victim of Dana Matherson, it’s Mullet Fingers, the mysterious barefoot kid, that steals the scene each time he appears. Is he a runaway? And if so, why? [Newbery chapter book, ages 10 and up]
5. Sophie Gets Angry, Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang
Sophie is having a really, really bad day. And this makes her really, really angry. To blow off steam, she runs away and returns to find that everything is ok. [Caldecott picture book, ages 2 and up]
4. Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
Maniac Magee is another mysterious runaway like Mullet Fingers of Hoot but in this Newbery winning chapter book, he’s the main character. Jeffrey Lionel “Maniac” Magee is an orphan with a special gift of running faster than the wind. His other gift, is more subtle. His racial blindness changes a town forever. [Newbery chapter book, ages 10 and up]
3. A Baby Sister for Frances by Russell and Lillian Hoban
It’s not easy getting a new baby sister so Frances decides to run away. She chooses a cozy place — the dining room table — and wisely brings along provisions. Mother and Father know how to get Frances back … and it involves chocolate cake! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
2. Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
It’s 1936 and the middle of the Great Depression. 10-year-old Bud decides to leave the orphanage that is his home since he was six in search of his father, who he has never met and knows nothing about. His only clue is a flyer advertising a jazz band that used to belong to Bud’s mother, Angela Janet Caldwell. Will finding Herman E. Calloway and the Dusky Devastators of the Depression give Bud the answers he seeks? [Newbery chapter book, ages 9 and up]
1. From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
Perhaps the greatest runaway caper ever performed in children’s literature. It’s an adventure that surely inspired kids in real life to hide out at an art museum. I know I’ve considered it. Along the way, Claudia and her little brother meet elderly Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler as she is the key to unraveling the origins of a mysterious sculpture Claudia discovers with her brother while hiding out at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. [Newbery chapter book, ages 9 and up]
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