Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman
|Book Name:||Fortunately, The Milk|
|Publisher(s):||HarperCollins (US) Bloomsbury Childrens (UK)|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / eBook|
|Genre(s):||Middle Grade / Children's Fantasy|
|Release Date:||September 17, 2013|
Am I painting with a wide brush when I say that, for most of us, children’s books are something we read as, well, children? Or to children, maybe? Rarely, if ever, have I picked up a copy of Green Eggs and Ham or The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog or the like and simply read for pleasure as an adult. Even “young adult” books like the Harry Potter series aren’t something I read with any real frequency. The exception to that rule, I suppose, would be The Hobbit. So when I decided to tackle Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately, The Milk, with illustrations by the brilliant Skottie Young, I did it with the intention of reading it aloud to my children.
That didn’t quite work out. Yet.
I am happy to report, however, that I had the pleasure of reading all 112 whimsical pages in one sitting. It was the best 75 minutes I’ve had in quite awhile. I cannot wait to share the book with my kids, and recommend you do so as well.
If you’re reading this review, if you visit this site and if you fancy yourself part of the fantasy faction (or Fantasy-Faction, either/or) you’re likely familiar with Mr. Gaiman—either through his work in comics like Sandman or novels like The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, Neverwhere or American Gods. Or, if you are one of those parents that can take only so many books about pigeons, underpants or rhyming non sequiturs, you may know him for his other children’s books like Coraline or Odd and The Frost Giants. And you’ll know that Gaiman loves and respects kids and takes his young audience very seriously.
Never pedantic, never heavy-handed, Gaiman writes to children as if they were simply small people—fully formed humans with different tastes, perspectives and life-experiences. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last 6+ years of reading to kids, it is that writing to children, as opposed to for children is difficult to pull off. And yet Gaiman does it time and time again. He understands kids because in many ways, he still is one—he hasn’t lost the innocence that comes from unabashed, unfettered imagination and delight in the absurd. And Fortunately, The Milk is both unfettered and absurd, in the most innocent and delightful ways possible.
The premise is simple: what happens when Mom goes away for a few days and Dad and the kids discover that they are out of milk? Speaking from experience—on both sides of the equation—this is not an uncommon occurrence. And what happens when Dad goes to get more milk…and is gone just a bit too long? Well, the explanation is not nearly as simple as one might think. It involves, in no particular order, the all of the following: a stegosaurus, natives with a penchant for human sacrifice, priceless gems, coconuts, snot, time travel and “wumpires” bent on “wiwisection.” And ponies. We mustn’t forget the ponies. Or the piranhas (they’re freshwater fish). And, of course, a carton of milk upon which the fate of the world—or at least breakfast—may or may not rest.
Gaiman’s simple—but never basic—prose is illustrated by Skottie Young in a manner reminiscent of Ralph Steadman, Hunter S. Thompson’s longtime illustrator at Rolling Stone and various other outlets. Young has championed work for children in comics for years, and his art in various X-Books for Marvel as well as his Eisner Award-winning run as artist of Marvel’s Oz books is never, ever dumbed down. His line work is complex, his figures are fantastical and his tone can convey humor and menace with a few strokes of the pen. His art compliments Gaiman’s prose like peanut butter compliments jelly. I hope they continue to work together on projects for both children and adults.
Gaiman has crafted a tale that touches on the essence of the relationship between fathers and their children – a desire to protect and provide tempered with equal parts bemusement, comical mutual lack of understanding and overwhelming desire to create smiles whenever possible. Dads are the most interesting of animals. Capable of exuding iron authority in one moment and juvenility in the next, they are—to paraphrase Churchill—riddles wrapped in mysteries inside enigmas. And, free from the burdens of being Mom, Dads can take a little longer than they should doing normal things like defrosting dinners or running to the corner store for milk. Fortunately, the milk always seems to make it home.