MILO: A MOVING STORY
by Tohby Riddle – Allen & Unwin, 2016
ages 2 to 8 years / heartwarming, emotional resilience, read-it-before-you-need-it
In the midst of an ordinary life, there are times when we feel tossed and beaten. In those moments, the loyalty of friends who wait and watch as we weather the storm and then celebrate our return, seems at once like an anchor and a lighthouse.
Milo is a dog who lives just such an ordinary life. He has friends, a job, a kennel that’s solid and ‘few complaints.’
But, after a restless night dreaming of being in a little boat, Milo speaks harshly to one of his friends.
After that, Milo’s day continues to be ‘out of kilter.’ What begins as a mild breeze becomes a gale as Milo struggles to deal with life as it whirls around him.
His world is so completely upended that he eventually needs rescuing by a migratory bird (wearing sneakers because he likes to walk sometimes) and a window cleaner.
Milo’s reactions to the upheaval in his world are both instructive and relatable. This is a particularly lovely parable about the effects of self doubt and disquiet.
Milo’s first night dreaming about being tossed in a little boat results in him not sleeping well. The next dream however has a more profound effect – Milo feels seasick and wakes to find his entire perspective on the world has changed.
Milo and his kennel have been carried about by the winds and have landed on the top of a tall building – his literal perspective-change works beautifully as a metaphor for his internal change - and as he considers the life he had and seems to have lost, Milo is somber and howls softly to himself.
Then, as it so often seems to do, luck intervenes and sends Carlos the migratory bird to Milo’s kennel. Working together, Carlos and Milo save Milo from immediate peril, then embrace his new (rooftop) position. Soon, a window cleaner comes and takes Milo and his kennel to the ground.
There’s still work to be done; the kennel must be taken home. But at home, where the kennel should be, are Milo’s friends. They’re fearful for Milo, they stand watching and waiting.
And when Milo does return, there is ‘relief all round’, coupled with a healthy dose of skepticism as his friends ‘hardly believe’ Milo’s story about his adventures!
It’s often that way isn’t it? The very best of friends, who are loyal and concerned, still struggle to understand the storms and buffetings of another.
A celebration follows Milo’s return but there is still more work to be done. Milo had offended Snombo, one of these very loyal friends, by failing to value the poetry Snombo was creating. In the midst of his own turmoil, Milo had yelled at his friend.
There’s an apology, but not instant forgiveness.
Milo dreams again. He’s once more in a little boat, but this time the sea is calm and there is land in sight. Finally, there is reconciliation in the form of a gift of a bound collection of Snombo’s poetry.
And all is well, Milo's turmoil is replaced with peace.
This is a truly marvellous story for exploring the benefits of friendship. Milo’s friends feature at the beginning of the story when there is fun to be had and messages to be passed - and they are there at the end. After Milo has gone through all the upheaval in his life, his friends are waiting for him. In Snombo’s case: waiting in spite of earlier offences and in spite of continued feelings of sadness.
And there’s so much more to this story:
It’s wonderful for thinking about how we respond to truly difficult times. When Milo is home again and sleeping well, he wakes feeling like himself and reflects, ‘Isn’t life a mystery’. In so many circumstances life remains a mystery - but Milo settles comfortably into his life. He listens to music, he works, and he waits for Snombo to recover too. It’s a peaceful response to the upheaval he has lived through.
There’s a reminder that sometimes we need a bit of luck, and that we need to work even when we do have some luck.
There’s a promise of better days to come when we are in the midst of physical or mental distress. (It's a really nice book for talking about mental health issues – Milo becomes disorientated, depressed and anxious when his world is disrupted, but he emerges eventually to waiting friends and to a happy life.)
The ordinary day is enthroned as a good and joyous thing.
The language is great for growing vocabulary as it introduces phrases and words that may be new to young readers in such a smooth and seamless fashion that understanding flows easily. (Words like ‘zephyr’ and ‘peril’. Phrases like ‘out of kilter’ and ‘lofty poetry.’)
The story deals with sadness, regret, and anxiety. It does so in a completely child-appropriate way, without making light of or hiding the impact of those feelings in any way.
The illustrations reflect perfectly the various moods and stages of Milo’s life – they are by turns gloomy, cheerful, peaceful and sweeping.
The thing that finally redeems Milo and Snombo’s friendship, and completes Milo’s return to contentment, is a shared book of Snombo’s poems. Poetry is truly redemptive, as is the very process of creating.
All of which makes for a brilliant picture book. And because there are plenty of giggle-worthy moments, it's one that will end up on high bedtime reading rotation.