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Top 100 Picture Books #90: Arnie the Doughnut by Laurie Keller

#90 Arnie the Doughnut by Laurie Keller (2003)
22 points

Simple story-doughnut baked, man finds doughnut, man tries to eat doughnut, they end up together as master and pet. What’s not to love? – Kyle Wheeler

An absurdist masterpiece in both writing and illustration. Our hero goes through a lot in one day: being created, finding a home, avoiding consumption, and eventually welcoming his new role in life as a doughnut dog. Hilarious even after multiple readings with subtle themes of belonging, Arnie the Doughnut (published in 2003) has more personality in its publication page than some picture books have in total. – Travis Jonker

When we consider the pantheon of picture books where the protagonist gets eaten (Pierre, Ugly Fish, Arlene the Sardine, etc.) Arnie stands out precisely because unlike those other books he does not go willing into that good night.  He rages, RAGES, against the consumption of pastries like himself.  The book turns squarely on its head those picture books and Disney shorts of old where an inanimate object has thoughts, feelings, hopes and dreams.  Keller has always been an original in many of her books (see: The Scrambled States of America) but I think that many of us would agree that Arnie is her masterpiece.  The evidence?  Well, though originally published in 2003 the book remains in print, in hardcover no less, to this very day.

The description from the publisher reads, “Arnie the talking doughnut convinces Mr. Bing that not all doughnuts are meant to be eaten. A deliciously imaginative story about friendship-from the author – illustrator of The Scrambled States of America. Arnie was fascinated as he watched the customers stream into the bakery. One by one, doughnuts were chosen, placed in paper bags, and whisked away with their new owners. Some went by the dozen in giant boxes. ‘Good-bye!’ Arnie yelled to each doughnut. ‘Have a good trip!’ ‘This is so exciting!’ Arnie beamed. ‘I wonder who will choose ME?’ At first glance, Arnie looks like an average doughnut-round, cakey, with a hole in the middle, iced and sprinkled. He was made by one of the best bakeries in town, and admittedly his sprinkles are candy-colored. Still, a doughnut is just a doughnut, right? WRONG! Not if Arnie has anything to say about it. And, for a doughnut, he sure seems to have an awful lot to say. Can Arnie change the fate of all doughnuts-or at least have a hand in his own future? Well, you’ll just have to read this funny story and find out for yourself.”

I am pleased to announce that a little birdie told me that there are plans in the works for making an Arnie the Doughnut early chapter book series in the vein of Bad Kitty.  No word on when the series is slated to come out (2013 sounds like a probable bet) but keep your eyes peeled just the same.

Back in the day Booklist gave it a mixed review saying, “The quirky friendship story is sweet, but unsubstantial; and new readers may find the text on the chaotic spreads difficult to follow. Keller’s riotous collages, however, which are filled with gleeful puns, winning characters, and over-the-top silliness, are as manic and fun as a sugar high.”

SLJ was more positive saying, “Filled with offbeat humor, this fantasy spoof also highlights Arnie’s optimistic, can-do personality. Kids will eat it up.”

And Kirkus got creative when it said, “Strewn with text lines, onlooking pastries, snappy side comments, unusual road signs, and other details, the frenetic postmodern illustrations may require more than one run-through to absorb-but so deliciously silly is this confection, that few readers will pass up second helpings.”

  • Love this 2004 cake auction where someone made their own Arnie.  But would you have the heart to eat him?

Weston Woods, bless ’em, made it into a little short film.  You can catch a glimpse of it here:

And there was a play out there as well?  Don’t mind if I do!

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Miranda says:

    Thanks for the commentary. This book is completely adorable and hilarious. The illustration where Arnie puts both hands and feet on the person’s lips as he or she is trying to eat him, and cries, “What are you doing?” reminds me of one of my cats like to do with his cat carrier when I ask him to go in.