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Runaway Cakes and Gingerbread Boys


The Johnny Cake Boy. Collected by James Taylor Adams, Big Laurel, Virginia. James Taylor Adams Collection. Full text in this web site.

The Gingerbread Boy. Collected by James Taylor Adams, Big Laurel, Virginia. James Taylor Adams Collection, JTA-105. Full text in this web site.

Shelby, Anne. "Runaway Cornbread." In The Adventures of Molly Whuppie and Other Appalachian Folktales. Illus. Paula McArdle. Chapel Hill: Univ. of NC Press, 2007. pp. 30-33. Three mice ("not blind or anything, just regular mice") make some cornbread that jumps out of the skillet and runs away. Shelby explains that she adapted "The Three Mice" collected by Leonard Roberts; she "enlarged the beginning, changed the ending, and, desirous to save the cornbread's life, provided a hole for it to jump down, like the old woman's dumpling in the folktale from Japan" (p. 87). Shelby used the same names as in Roberts, where the gender of the mice is unspecified, but her third mouse, the practical one who gets cornbread made instead of arguing and makes more to eat at the end when the fleeing Pone of Bread has escaped, is female. For more on Shelby's book see Appalachian Folktale Collections K-Z.

"The Three Mice." In Roberts, Leonard. Old Greasybeard: Tales From the Cumberland GapIllus. Leonard Epstein. Detroit: Folklore Associates, 1969. Rpt. Pikeville, KY: Pikeville College Press, 1980. pp. 31-33. Roberts' detailed notes observe that this tale combines motifs called Titty Mouse and Tatty Mouse (Motif Z41.10), The little red hen and the wheat (Motif Z41.11), and The Fleeing Pancake (Type 2025). The cornbread's growing list of characters from whom he has escaped is not as elaborate a cumulative list as in similar tales. At the end a sow simply catches the cornbread and eats it up without the tricks or escapes that occur in other variants. Roberts acquired this tale in writing from John Valentine of Bell County, KY, a teacher who attended Roberts' folklore class and collected tales from acquaintances. Roberts observes that this tale and related ones appeared in their grade school readers, and that "the main story of the fleeing pancake is one of those cumulative tales to please children" (p. 178).

Sawyer, Ruth. Journey Cake, Ho! Illus. Robert McCloskey. New York: Viking Press, 1953. A Caldecott Honor book for 1954. An old couple on Tip Top Mountain, Merry and Grumble, have a "bound-out boy" named Johnny. When the farm falls on hard times, they send Johnny off with a journey-cake. As in other stories about runaway pancakes or gingerbread men, the journey cake runs away, and is chased by Johnny and a series of animals. It leads them back to the farm, where the animals make the farm successful again. The prose story contains verses of song about the journey cake. At the end the story plays with the terms used in different places, when Merry changes the name Journey Cake to Johnny Cake. Lively two-color illustrations depict the change from a despondent to a happy farm family. The mountain setting is not necessarily Appalachian, but journey cakes appear in Appalachian stories, such as some versions of Mutsmag.

See also:

The Three Little Pigs and the Fox

Another cumulative tale retold in Appalachia (as well as England) is MacDonald, Margaret Read. The Old Woman and her Pig: An Appalachian Folktale. Illus. John Kanzler. New York: HarperCollins, 2007. After buying a pig for a penny, a woman gets embroiled in the antics of a series of other animals who help her get the stubborn pig across the bridge.

Compare with:

"The Annotated Gingerbread Man." A version from St. Nicholas Magazine 1875, annotated by Heidi Anne Heiner in SurLaLune Fairy Tales Pages, with links to background, illustrations, and other variants, including  Joel Chandler Harris (American Uncle Remus), Joseph Jacobs (American source), Aleksandr Afanasyev (Russian), and Peter Christen Asbjørnsen (Norse). Harris' "The Fate of Mr. Jack Sparrow" is based on tales he heard in Florida, middle Georgia, and elsewhere. A sparrow who annoys Brer Rabbit gets tricked into falling into the clutches of Brer Fox. 

The Runaway Pancake: folktales of Aarne-Thompson type 2025. D. L. Ashliman reprints 5 tales from USA, Germany, Norway. Folklore and Mythology Electronic Texts. University of Pittsburgh, 2000.

"The Bear Ate Them Up." In Randolph, Vance. Sticks in the Knapsack Other Ozark Folk Tales. New York: Columbia University Press, 1958.

"The Old Woman Who Lost Her Dumplings." Japanese Fairy Tale no. 24, c. 1902, from a book published by T. Hasegawa, transl. Lafcadio Hearn, illus. Kason Suzuki. Reproduced at George C. Baxley, book dealer's web site. The old woman's dumpling rolls into a hole at the beginning of the tale, a motif Anne Shelby refers to in notes on her tale "Runaway Cornbread" (see above). The old woman goes after it and has adventures in a strange place (see the tale below). Also available at NYPL Digital Library. This same tale is in The Boy Who Drew Cats and Other Japanese Folktales by Yuko Green and  Lafcadio Hearn. Mineola, NY: Dover, 1998, and in Cole, Joanna, and Jill Karla Schwarz. Best-Loved Folktales of the World. NY: Doubleday, 1982.

Runaway rice balls occur in "Rice Balls," a Japanese tale told by Appalachian storyteller Connie Regan-Blake on Dive-Into Stories: A Telling Performance. CD. Asheville, NC: Storywindow Productions, 2006. A clever old woman loses some of her rice balls but acquires a magic paddle for making huge amounts of rice after her first three balls roll away into the hands of hungry ogres called Oni.

Esterl, Arnica. The Fine Round Cake. Illus. Andrei Dugin and Olga Dugina. New York: Four Winds Press, 1991. Picture book with lavish illustrations by a team of Russian illustrators. Translated from German, based on Joseph Jacobs.

Egielski, Richard. The Gingerbread Boy. New York: HarperCollins, 1997. Egielski's Gingerbread Boy flees through mid-twentieth-century New York City.

Scieszka, Jon. The Stinky Cheese Man & Other Fairly Stupid Fairy Tales. Illus. Lane Smith. NY: Viking Penguin, 1992. A zany postmodern satire of fairy tale collections, with a frame story about a cheese man so stinky no one wants to catch him.

See also Classroom Connections on runaway food stories at Jim Aylesworth web site (featuring his 1998 picture book The Gingerbread Man), and Tales Around the World: The Gingerbread Boy, Indianapolis Public Library (including a free video story).

Last update: 9/4/20   |   top of page  |   Links checked 7/12/17


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