A young immigrant adjusts to life in America in Thrity Umrigar’s evocatively titled Sugar in Milk. “When I first came to this country, I felt so alone,” the young girl reveals. Though she lives with her Auntie and Uncle, she struggles with loneliness and misses her family and friends back home. Recognizing her niece’s sadness and isolation, her Auntie takes her for a walk and shares a story with the girl:
Once upon a time, some Persian refugees made their way to India but were turned away by the king. Then a brave man dissolved some sugar into a very full glass of milk, creating a visual metaphor to convey how the refugees would “sweeten your lives with our presence” and successfully establishing peace between the refugees and the king. Hearing this story becomes a turning point for the girl, and she begins to appreciate her “new and magical homeland.”
Illustrator Thao Le’s palette incorporates captivating cool tones of teal, copper and crimson as well as rich, beguiling blues. Elaborate borders set off the spreads depicting Auntie’s story and become increasingly detailed with each page turn, marking her ancient tale as separate from the primary narrative and adding a sense of formality to its telling. The book’s opening and closing spreads—that is, before and after Auntie’s story—are a study in contrasts as the girl’s dull, solitary winter days vanish, replaced by spring sunshine and blooming flowers.
Sugar in Milk powerfully demonstrates how a simple story can radically alter one’s perspective for the better. It’s a timely exploration of timeless themes of acceptance and what it means to call a place home.