As I flipped through the next couple pages, my suspicions were confirmed. Early 1900s costumes? An adorable little girl with billowy dark hair? I could eat this book for dessert.
But before I get carried away and start requesting an edition of Little Women illustrated by Lenny Wen, I should get back to, you know, B.C.R. Fegan’s actual story.
Every year on her birthday, Grandpa Gilderberry brings Madeline a box of brightly colored potions. “Happy birthday, Madeline,” he says. “Take a potion, take a brew. Just don’t drink the pink.”
Dutifully, Madeline picks a different color (never pink) every time. And when she does, marvelous things happen.
She breathes fire, turns invisible, runs faster than a train, and creates money with her bare hands. (That last trick wins Grandpa Gilderberry big points with Madeline’s father, I suspect.)
But a month before her 15th birthday, Madeline’s grandpa dies. Heartbroken, she goes to his workshop on her birthday and cries. When she lifts her head, Madeline sees a single pink bottle behind a note that reads: “Happy birthday.”
Clearly, it’s time to drink the pink.
While the story may feel a bit repetitive, it’s wonderfully charming and imaginative. And though after a few pages, the book’s pattern is established, there’s still an element of surprise as we wonder which potion Madeline will choose this time and what will happen when she does.
Of course, below the surface level story is a message about grandfathers and the curious delight they bring their granddaughters. I found myself thinking about my grandpa who passed away a few years ago and how, like Grandpa Gilderberry, he was always surprising and delighting his grandchildren and gifting them with strength, power, and perhaps best of all, memories.
I’ll admit that, while I found the ending beautiful and quite moving, it left me with a few questions. This could be because I’ve watched too much Doctor Who and am taking this simple children’s picture book to complicated places where it doesn’t need to go. (Time loop?)
But whatever my questions, I heartily approve of B.C.R. Fegan’s Don’t Drink the Pink, its whimsical illustrations, and its story about a grandfather with an infinite capacity for giving. Drink the pink, Madeline.