Friday, April 11, 2014

Don't Spill the Milk! by Stephen Davies and Christopher Corr

Don't Spill the Milk! by Stephen Davies and Christopher Corr

Rating: 5 stars

Of course Returned Peace Corps Volunteer me would love this book! A suspenseful, unique, sweet book set in Burkina Faso, with wild and creative illustrations of scenes you and your children will probably never see first-hand.  (Unless they join the Peace Corps.  One can only hope!)

And maybe you're already looking at the cover, wondering: does she spill the milk?

First, let's figure out who she is and I'll tell you the story that Davies tells and Corr illustrates.  Penda's father is up in the grasslands, tending sheep.  Penda's mother wants to take a bowl of milk to him.  Penda begs him--please, please--"let me take it!"  And, wonderfully, her mother grants her this responsibility.  She settles the bowl atop Penda's head, and off goes the young girl towards the grasslands.

"Let me take Daddy his milk. Please, please, please!"
Penda travels across the "uppy, downy dunes" (oh don't you love that description?!), through the mask-wearing "beasties" in a festival, on a stinky fishing boat, past a herd of giraffes, and up one looming mountain of a hill.  All the while, she balances the bowl of milk on her head.  All the while, she repeats to herself: "Come on, girl, you've got work to do" and other similar encouraging remarks--to herself.

Finally, she makes it to her daddy, who is resting under a big mango tree when she approaches.  She carefully and successfully takes takes the bowl off her head, and just as she's passing it to him, a big mango plops into it, and spills all the milk.  She's (of course!) upset, and my kids were heartbroken along with her.  "I don't believe it!" she wails.  Sitting so very far away from Penda but still magically close to her, Lorelei, Ben and Kiefer didn't believe it either.

Daddy points out: "There was more than milk in that bowl."  His daughter looks at him quizzically.  "Your love for me was in that bowl as well. This bowl is full of love, girl, and it still is.  You didn't spill a drop."

"Don't shiver, don't quiver, don't fall in the river, girl.
Keep it on your head, girl, milk don't float."
Together they cut a big mango in three pieces (Daddy confesses he likes mangoes more than milk anyway--I love that reassurance to his Penda): one for Penda, one for Daddy, and… "One for Mummy?" asks Penda.  Her dad nods.  And off she goes, with the piece of mango, the piece of love, on her head as she travels back home from the grasslands.

My kids were spellbound while reading this book.  They traveled with Penda, hoping right alongside her that she didn't spill her milk. By the time she got to her daddy, they were holding their breaths.  And, I was choking back tears at the end.  I was surprised--in a great way--at the small, subtle inclusion about the love between Daddy and Mummy in this children's book.

After I finished, there was a flood of questions that made me realize this is a great, great book. I could see their minds stretching as the book sunk into their heads.  How old is Penda? How could such a young girl take a trip by herself?  Would she really see giraffes like that?  Why does she carry it on her head?  Why don't they have a jug with a lid?

This is a must-buy.  I want it to be read over and over by American kids so their perspective on other cultures can be broadened just a little, and they can see one of many things that link all of us humans together: love.

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