Don’t Spill the Milk by Stephen Davies, illustrated by Christopher Corr
Penda lives in a tiny village in Niger with her family. Her father has headed up into the grasslands with the sheep. Penda volunteers to take her father a bowl of milk and has to try not to spill any along the way. She puts the milk on her head and starts to walk. She has to walk along the sand dunes and between the dancers at the rainy-season mask dance. Then she takes a boat across the Niger River with the milk still on her head. After that she has to climb one last mountain and there is her father. She’s almost there when… You will have to read whether Penda delivers the milk successfully or not.
Davies has traveled extensively in Africa and carefully chose the setting of the Niger River thanks to its varied landscape and intriguing animals. All of the landforms in the book exist in this area as do the animals too, including the unusual and endangered pale giraffes. Davies writes with a lovely rhythm that moves the book along quickly. Penda speaks to herself as she walks, reminding herself to pay attention in couplets of natural verse.
Corr’s art is eye-poppingly bright with yellow skies, orange hills, and blue water. Against those bright colors, the characters wear even more color filled with designs. The book evokes the vibrancy of Africa and the bustle of its villages.
Expect small children to want to try to carry bowls of liquids on their own heads after this beautiful introduction to Africa. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
It’s Milking Time by Phyllis Alsdurf, illustrated by Steve Johnson & Lou Fancher
This picture book looks at milking time on a modern dairy farm. A little girl works alongside her father. She helps to bring the cows in from the field and then into the barn. She scoops feed into their stalls and helps get the milkers ready. Then she opens the big barn doors and the cows enter the barn and line up in their stanchions. The little girl goes around and locks them. Milking starts, and there are quiet moments to look out at the growing corn, but then milk is ready to be carried to the milk house, a pitcher filled for the family. Then the calves must be fed, the manure shoveled, and finally the two walk up to the house in the twilight.
Told with great detail and a loving tone, this story shines with love for the heartland and dairy farms.
While the farm is clearly modern, there is a great timelessness to the story with the interaction of farmer and cows, the buckets of milk, and even the pitcher of milk for home use. Alsdurf uses a refrain throughout the book, “Every morning, every night, it’s milking time.” That repetition works well, reminding readers that this same activity happens over and over again on a farm.
The illustrations add to that feeling of timelessness. They are done in soft colors with late afternoon light flowing golden over the images. They also have soft edges, like favorite jeans that have been washed many times. They are pure comfort.
For librarians in Wisconsin, this book is a natural fit. It’s good to see a farm setting that is not historical but keeps that pastoral feel. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.