Grace and Mr Milligan (Caz Goodwin, illus by Pip Kruger, Marshall Cavendish)
Young Grace, old Mr Milligan from next door and his goat Charlie regularly enjoy spending time together in their gardens and at the nearby beach, happily munching on fruit grown by Mr Milligan. Charlie, however, is ageing, and soon slides peacefully out of their lives. This is a delicate, wholesome, love-filled story about losing a friend and grieving, but it is also filled with joy—in the uncomplicated happiness of Grace’s friendship with her neighbours, and also in Pip Kruger’s lively and vivid illustrations, reminiscent of a bright Alison Lester world rendered with hints of Scandinavian folk art. Caz Goodwin handles Charlie’s death with tenderness and simplicity, keeping the event itself undramatic yet without euphemising it (Mr Milligan and Charlie quietly spend Charlie’s final days together until ‘Mr Milligan woke to a lonely day’). Grace’s grief is tempered by her concern for Mr Milligan, and as time passes, she helps to bring gladness back into his days as they begin to enjoy bowls of fruit together again, delighting in shared memories of Charlie. Picture books that set out to introduce and normalise death for young children so often sacrifice their narrative quality in trying to be sensitive and edifying, but Grace and Mr Milligan doesn’t fall into this trap. It’s moving and enjoyable, and will work just as well for a resource in handling death and grief as it will for everyday storytime sessions.
Books+Publishing reviewer: Anica Boulanger-Mashberg, an editor and writer, is a bookseller at The Hobart Bookshop. Books+Publishing is Australia’s number-one source of pre-publication book reviews.