Fortunately the Milk: Gaiman's kid-novel is a tribute to fatherly trolling

Neil Gaiman's illustrated children's novel Fortunately the Milk is a magnificent tribute to the fatherly art of trolling kids with straightfaced, outlandish tales. It's narrated by a boy whose mother is away on a business trip, and whose father had to go out to the corner store for a pint of milk for the cereal and his tea. Dad takes an unconscionably long time getting the milk, and when he returns, the narrator and his little sister accuse Dad of having stopped to gossip at the store. Not so, insists Dad, who proceeds to explain exactly what happened while he was out getting the milk.

It's an astounding tale, starting with an alien abduction, moving swiftly onto a space-time journey to the ship of a vicious pirate queen and a near-death plank-walking, a daring rescue by a time-travelling dinosaur scientist in a hot-air-balloon time machine, and thence through interference with a pre-Colombian human sacrifice, and many, many other adventures, including several involving temporal paradoxes.

It's an absolute delight to read aloud — I've read it to my five-year-old daughter twice since the weekend — and the interludes in which the kids break in to question the dad's story sparked great conversations, especially when it came to the temporal paradoxes. The fact that the kids clearly suspect that Dad is making it all up, but would rather try to disprove it by picking holes in his continuity than by denying it outright perfectly captures the spirit of an excellent round of dad-trolling.

And for all the mad-cappery, there's a fair bit of attention here to an internally consistent time-travel story, with all the fun that implies. By the end, we're in a kid-safe place that's one part Douglas Adams, one part Doctor Who, and one part The Usual Suspects. It's quite a mix!

There are two editions of the book: the UK edition is illustrated with Chris Riddell, whose art is more Al Jaffee, less Ralph Steadman — madcap rather than grotesque. The US edition is illustrated by Skottie Young, whose work is more grown-up. Both artists complement the text well, but I favor the UK version. You can see some art samples below.

Fortunately the Milk [UK edition, illustrated by Chris Riddell]

Fortunately the Milk [US edition, illustrated by Skottie Young]

UK edition (Chris Riddell)

US edition (Skottie Young)