Wednesday, December 4, 2013

30 Days of Picture Books - Don't Spill the Milk! by Stephen Davies

It's Day 26 of our 30 Days of Picture Books. Last night I wrote about giving books as gifts, which put me in mind of the books I received as a child myself. One of the best gifts I ever got was a boxed set of the Chronicles of Narnia, when I was about 5 years old. I was a precocious reader, but even still I didn't get around to reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe for a couple of years, when I was sick in bed with the flu. From the very beginning I was hooked, and I raced through the rest of the series shortly thereafter. I still have fond memories of finishing one book and knowing that the next was right there waiting for me - my guess is I probably put the first book down and picked the second up immediately!

Tonight's choice is a title that reminds me a lot of the kinds of picture books I loved as a kid. Stephen Davies' Don't Spill the Milk! is lively and full of action, with lots of little details embedded in every spread. Kids love books like this - at least every kid I've ever known certainly does, and Sprout is no exception. The first time we read this title he was picking out things I never noticed when reading it on my own. So don't think you're going to flip through this one super fast, because you'll want time to linger.

Davies' story takes place in West Africa, specifically Niger, which we find out from his author's note. (I wish he had specified this in the text itself, rather than using the generic "Africa", but that's a small enough quibble since we were able to look up the country name for Sprout.) Penda's father is far away in the grasslands tending the family's sheep, and she volunteers to take him a bowl of milk. You can tell right off that Penda's a sparky little firecracker. But she channels her energy by telling herself to walk slowly, slowly, slowly so she doesn't spill Daddy's milk. On she walks, past distractions like a herd of giraffes and a flock of masked dancers, and even takes a boat - but will she make it to Daddy without spilling the milk?

Davies could easily have left this as a fun tour through a West African country, but instead he uses it as a vehicle to explore the love between family members. I absolutely adore that touch, because it shows a strong African family united through caring for one another, a message I very much want to crystallize for my own son. The pictures by Christopher Corr are absolutely stellar, and work not only to give a specific sense of place but also to bring Davies' themes to life. There's a folk-art flair about them that perfectly suits the setting, and the sun-drenched colors will cheer up even the most dreary winter day.

If your library or bookstore doesn't yet have Don't Spill the Milk!, by all means ask for it. This is a terrific title that far deserves a wider audience - you can bet that, like Penda's milk, we're sharing it with the ones we love!

Don't Spill the Milk! by Stephen Davies, published by Andersen Press

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