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Monday, September 23, 2013

'Fortunately, the Milk . . .' by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

You know what it’s like when your mum goes away on a business trip and Dad’s in charge. She leaves a really, really long list of what he’s got to do. And the most important thing is DON’T FORGET TO GET THE MILK. Unfortunately, Dad forgets. So the next morning, before breakfast, he has to go to the corner shop, and this is the story of why it takes him a very, very long time to get back.

Featuring: Professor Steg (a time-travelling dinosaur), some green globby things, the Queen of the Pirates, the famed jewel that is the Eye of Splod, some wumpires, and a perfectly normal but very important carton of milk.

Only Neil Gaiman could delight two polar-opposite readerships by releasing one of the most buzzed-about adult books of the year (‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ – so good I still can’t bring myself to write a review because THERE ARE NO WORDS!) and then a few months later a lavishly wonderful children’s book. It’s not surprising, really, because Neil Gaiman wrote both ‘American Gods’ and ‘Coraline’ – cementing himself as a fine storyteller for all ages.


‘Fortunately, the Milk. . . ’ being Gaiman’s children’s foray, his Bloomsbury publishers know they can be a bit more blunt and honest with their younger readers. Hence this very apt author billing;

The book is about a father left in charge of his two children when their mum goes off to a conference. But the first disaster strikes at breakfast-time, when they run out of milk. So it’s up to dad to trot down to the corner store for a refill . . . but he takes ages and ages, and it’s only upon his return that the children discover what took him so long. 

The whole book is a bit tongue-in-cheek, and there’s something here for the intended 8-12 readership, as well as the parents for whom this will be bedtime reading. For the kids there are; Dwarves, wumpires, a stegosaurus, aliens, pirates, ponies, a volcano god . . . then for the adult readers there are some references to The Usual Suspects, a little Doctor Who-esque time travel conundrum and some making fun of Twilight. 

It’s all a bit brilliant really. Even more so because Chris Riddell’s illustrations have made the dad look like Neil Gaiman himself – which makes me think back on an old blog post Gaiman wrote about where he gets his ideas from. 

Interestingly, there are two versions of Gaiman’s latest children’s book (for reasons not even he can explain). There’s the US and Canada book illustrated by Skottie Young – this version does not include a Neil-Father lookalike, and is perhaps the slightly more conventional children’s book. Chris Riddell’s illustrated book for Australia and UK includes the ellipsis in the title ‘. . . ’ and the shiniest cover you ever did see. There’s also some symmetry in Riddell lending his drawings to ‘Fortunately’, because Riddell also illustrated the anniversary edition of ‘Coraline’.  

Either way, Gaiman’s extravagant story is a lot of fun with moments of quiet brilliance. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I read the blurb for ‘Fortunately, the Milk. . . ’ about a father who takes a jolly good time to get home to his children with their promised milk, I instantly thought of the old cliché prevalent in many stories; that a father went to buy a packet of cigarettes one morning and never came home. The basis being that father’s don’t really hold up so well in many stories; so I love that Gaiman took that old cliché and made a minor hero of this father and detailed his grand adventures to get home to his kids. 
Oh! And never forget, “where there is milk, there is hope.” 


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