Neil Gaiman – Fortunately, the Milk

I have been insanely busy lately, so this slim and heavily illustrated children’s book by Neil Gaiman came at the perfect time. Finally, I could sit down with a book and read it in one sitting without such annoying things as work interrupting me.
It was fun, it was silly, and I would have loved to have read this as a child.

fortunately the milkFORTUNATELY, THE MILK
by Neil Gaiman

Published by: Harper Collins, 2013
ISBN: 0062224077
Hardcover: 128 pages
Standalone
My rating: 7/10

First sentence:  There was only or­ange juice in the fridge.

“I bought the milk,” said my father. “I walked out of the corner shop, and heard a noise like this: T h u m m t h u m m. I looked up and saw a huge silver disc hovering in the air above Marshall Road.”
“Hullo,” I said to myself. “That’s not something you see every day. And then something odd happened.”
Find out just how odd things get in this hilarious story of time travel and breakfast cereal, expertly told by Newbery Medalist and bestselling author Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Skottie Young.

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When a motherless-for-the-weekend family find themselves in lack of any milk for their breakfast cereal and tea, one brave father steps outside to buy some at the corner shop. The children find that it takes him surprisingly long to return. What they don’t know, of course, is that their dad went on a wacky, time-travel adventure featuring dinosaurs, aliens, wumpires, and piranhas. The father’s absence is explained in full and reminded a bit of The Usual Suspects for kids.

This is clearly a children’s book. Not only is it full of illustrations and has fun with fonts, but it is also a very simple story that is probably as much fun being read to as reading for oneself. That said, I commend Neil Gaiman for putting so much time travel in this book. Sure, you never have to remember for longer than a few pages what time the protagonists have just left and when a second version of themselves suddenly show up to steal the milk – or give it back. But, being an adult, I scrutinized the logic behind Gaiman’s time travel (and don’t go telling me time travel can’t be logical in its own way) and it all holds up.

There are some wonderfully quirky bits, some parts that will be funnier to adults than to children, and – my favorite thing about the entire book – gorgeous illustrations. The UK and US editions of Fortunately, the Milk are illustrated by different artists. While you will find Chris Riddell’s wonderful art in the UK version (I loved his images in The Graveyard Book to bits!), the US version shows off Scottie Young’s amazing skill. His drawings are intricate and full of flourishes and twirly bits… I stared at them for minutes at a time.

fortunately the milk piranhas
Scottie Young’s characters are little more than stick figures with big heads on top, but their faces are expressive and wonderful and just fun – just look with how much love for detail the hair is drawn. The only thing that would make this an even better book would be full color illustrations.

Now that I got all of the praise out of the way, let me tell you what disappointed me a little. Neil Gaiman is a master of his craft. His books are atmospheric and dark, they cleverly play off genre tropes, they show us old things through a new lens. This, however, wasn’t any of that. I enjoyed it because of how it celebrates the joy of storytelling, of making things up, of going along with silly ideas that children suggest – all of these things are important to me, and the fact that a big name like Neil Gaiman can reach millions of people with it makes me happy. If your own children ever come up with a tale like this, don’t shut them up. Let them tell you about the stegosaurus in the hot air balloon!

But for all of that, it was maybe too simple, maybe a bit too predictable. I honestly can’t say if I feel that way because I am not the target age group or because I am a spoiled book brat. Having read such amazing children’s books as Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland novels or Ysabeau S. Wilce’s Flora Segunda books, I have come to expect more of children’s novels than a silly adventure with everything and the kitchen sink.

To me, children’s books truly show a writer’s talent. And an author who manages to write a children’s book that can entice both children and adults is a true genius. Neil Gaiman charmed me for an hour, but ultimately, the story will be gone from my memory very soon. The pictures… now, the pictures may stick around for quite a while longer.

RATING: 7/10  –  Very good

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