Perhaps I expected more from a previous Carnegie and Newbery award winning author. I was a bit let down with Fortunately, the Milk. Our children deserve better writing, better stories, more character development and less of the quick-fix, computer generated, graphic novel type. The blurb of the book states that the author has also written two episodes of Doctor Who and appeared as himself in The Simpsons. That, in a nutshell, is what this book reminded me of: a not very well constructed Doctor Who story crossed with a not very funny Simpsons show.
The plot is that Mum has gone away for a few days, and Dad is in charge of the children. He goes out to buy the milk and has a series of zany action-packed adventures. He meets a dinosaur in a time-travelling hot air balloon; gets abducted by space aliens and; meets intergalactic police, pirates, and volcano gods. He then returns to his children and narrates the adventures, milk safely in hand. Despite the adventurous sound of all this, after reading it one feels like one has just watched a DVD instead of having savoured a good book. It lacks passion and feeling.
Settings move on and are replaced quickly, without much development. Characters jump between past, present and future whilst being asked academic questions, rather than being created with the skill that allows the reader to engage imaginatively in the different time settings. Children do not really feature in this book – they are mostly silent observers, academic questioners, or cynical disbelievers at the end of the story. There is the requisite female pirate looking more like a witch than a pirate – extremely cross and dark, her face devoid of any trace of warmth, her clothing decorated with skulls, her fingernails sharp and pointy on long emaciated fingers.
Tweens may enjoy this book with its teen-like humour and witticisms, scientific flavour and action. Those kids who enjoy making up long words to describe basic things or lateral thinkers may enjoy the descriptions of everyday objects but I found them a bit long winded, strange and distracting. “Floaty-Ball-Person-Carrier” is a hot air balloon; “hard hairy wet white crunchers” are coconuts (a bit suggestive when it is sung later as “a lovely bunch of hard hairy wet white crunchers”); diamonds and rubies as “special-shiny-clear-stones and “special shiny red stones”; milk is “wet-white drinky-stuff”. A few other suggestive song titles were unnecessary.
I will search elsewhere for the novel that brings life and sensitivity to a story, awakening our senses and making us feel glad for having imagined ourselves into another person’s shoes.
A former children’s librarian, Jane Fagan is currently a full-time mother of two.