Because all of life is stories.
Today we’re going to take a look at two books you’ll find shelved in the “Juvy Reader” section of most book stores. One of them is very new, the other is fairly old. Both are, for completely different reasons, magical.
The first of the two is the oddly titled Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman. Fresh off the incredible success of his latest adult novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Reviewed HERE) Gaiman has published a children’s book that he describes as “The silliest thing I have ever written.” A few months ago I had the good fortune to see Mr. Gaiman speak in Toronto, (And got to shake his hand and he doodled on my Sandman #1. Squee!) and at the end of the night he read us a passage from Fortunately. It had dinosaurs and pirates and time travel and aliens. And we only got to hear a few pages of it.
According to Gaiman, he wrote Fortunately, The Milk because he wanted to write a book that was about the world’s most awesome dad. He told us that he was a little bit abashed when he discovered people were using his other book about dads, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, as a Father’s Day gift. He went on to say that the goldfish story features a dad who is traded between the neighborhood kids for things like goldfish and a guitar. He figured that, having wrote a “dadist” book containing a father that doesn’t really seem to know what’s going on, he should write another one in which the dad is AWESOME.
And this dad is AWESOME. Yes, with the capitals. He’s that cool.
It starts off innocently enough. With mom gone on business it’s up to dad to keep watch over the house. And when the milk has run out for breakfast it’s up to dad to save the day. Trust me, it gets better. It takes dad…well…awhile to return with the milk, and when he does his kids inquire as to what held him up. His answer?
Kidnapped by aliens.
Unwilling to help these aliens redecorate the planet with throw pillows and collectible plates he jumps from the ship, only to land aboard another ship, several hundred years in the past. A pirate ship. Because of course. From here we meet island gods, vampires (wumpires if you listen closely), time traveling dinosaurs, and a curiously unexplained school of piranhas. We watch as dad takes on each challenge, breaks several laws of physics, and, fortunately, holds tightly to the milk on his quest to return to his own time for his children’s breakfast.
The illustrations from Skottie Young are also incredible, but then, everything the man does is incredible.
Marvel needs to give this guy his own book again. Pronto.
This brings us to the second part of our books for tiny people doubleheader. (Or anyone really, we all have a small sugar fueled child running on a hamster wheel somewhere in our heads right?) It’s another book with wonderful illustrations (courtesy Marc Simont) and if you get the newest version has words from Neil Gaiman in it. He does the introduction. The Thirteen Clocks was written by James Thurber in 1950, and it is an enduring classic. It is the story of a prince who must accomplish an impossible task to free a princess from her horrible guardian. Yeah, it’s not super original. Neither was Eragon, and that got a movie and a four book deal. Move on.
The Prince is a clever sort, he’s a musician, and he takes rescuing the princess not only as a personal challenge, but as a mission of love and mercy. It isn’t terribly up on strong female characters, but the princess is no fool either. A good bit of her rescuing comes from her own work as well. Less Bella, more Fiona from Shrek. He is also helped by a rather mysterious creature called the Golux. Between the three of them they must complete the impossible task set out by the evil Duke keeping Saralinda captive or he will marry her instead.
The Duke is pure evil. Zorn and Saralinda fit into their own tropes as well. Prince Charming, Damsel in Distress. The Golux plays the role of the strange and helpful wizard. He is clearly magic, though of what kind we never really discover. Honestly, pretty much every character here fits into a trope. Like I said, the story isn’t terribly original. But it is told brilliantly. You can write a book filled with tropes and very easily make it terrible. The skill comes in making it magical, taking and drawing wonder from those that have come before and keeping it alive in your own words. Many people stumble at this, and end up being called derivative or unimaginative or are just forgotten. Despite the simpleness of his tale, James Thurber and The Thirteen Clocks should never be forgotten.
Now go read.