There are few people more qualified to write for children about food than Vikas Khanna. As the host of Junior MasterChef, the author of the Young Chefs recipe book and of course as a Michelin-starred chef himself, he hardly needs an introduction. The Milk Moustache is not Khanna’s first foray into writing fiction for children, either. He made his debut in 2014 with The Magic Rolling Pin, which took inspiration from his own childhood memories of the kitchen.
It’s hard not to compare a second book with the first, and this is no exception. While The Milk Moustache is a sweet story, it lacks the immediacy which Khanna’s real-life experience brought to The Magic Rolling Pin.
That being said, I’m all for books which can help urban children think about where what they eat and drink comes from, and this book is laudable for highlighting the role of the farmer in producing your daily glass of milk. The picture painted in the book is very much one of the ‘rural idyll’ though – complete with birds chirping, butterflies flying and the young farmer’s daughter dancing – but the story does at least make an attempt to show that when consumers stop buying milk, it has a direct impact on the farmer (and, in this case, a rather unhappy cow).
Despite having a female protagonist, who ultimately saves the day, I couldn’t help but wish the other gender roles in the book were less stereotypical – I mean, the mothers buying the milk from the farmer and warming it up for their children to drink, the male farmer, etc. Though, of course, it’s hard to argue that this is not the way it would be in many parts of rural India.
The square, hardback format is attractive, making this a good ‘gift’ book. The digital illustrations, too, are bright and appealing, if also lacking a little nuance. One of the joys of picture books is re-reading them with young readers, and discovering new things on every page. While The Milk Moustache is well presented, there’s not enough depth either in the text or pictures for it to become one of those stories that you read again and again.
However, there’s a definite lack of books which encourage young readers to think about ‘farm to fork’ or get involved in preparing food, so I do hope Vikas Khanna’s series with Penguin India continues.
By Maegan Dobson Sippy
Author: Vikas Khanna
Illustrator: Mihir Joglekar
Penguin India, 2015
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction/Picture Book