As a child, this book scared the bejesus out of me. The kind of scary that makes you want to read it over and over again. I suspect it's the same kind of scary that makes adults watch horror films, though I wouldn't know as I didn't progress beyond picture-books in the scary-stakes.
Or as one expert puts it: "From the very earliest age, when adults play the game of 'Boo!' with infants, the young learn the surprising fact that scariness can be discomforting fun." (Jerry Griswold, Feeling Like a Kid: Childhood and Children's Literature).
I'm now subjecting Milkbaby to the same thrills and intrigue that had me hooked. Now, as an adult, it still holds the same intrigue, not least because I now know its chilling backstory. We'll come to that.
Let's start with the story. Ida, whose papa is away at sea, is playing her wonder-horn to rock the baby still. But she's not watching, preferring instead to look out the window.
First crucial mistake. The goblins come and steal her baby sister away - "to be a nasty goblin's bride" - leaving an ice-baby in her place. So Ida, making her second crucial mistake, climbs backwards out her window into Outside Over There. Finally, on her father's advice, she tumbles right side round and finds herself "smack in the middle of a wedding". Luckily, she's brought her goblin-taming horn with her. Long story short, she manages to use the horn to sort the goblins from the baby, and retrieve her sister from the hubbub. Phew. You can see why the story had an addictive appeal to a dark-haired little girl with a younger sister.
Wikipedia suggests that Ida is jealous and resentful of the baby, for whom she is largely responsible while their father is away. I didn't take this from the story, though Mama in the arbor does seem strangely unperturbed by the goings on in the back garden.
Now to the illustrations. Quite simply, they are captivating, magical, and every time I read the book I see something new or decide I should try and locate a print of this or that picture for my wall.
And finally, the intrigue. Sendak says this story was inspired by his fascination with the Lindbergh baby kidnapping case, and in his recent biopic, suggested that at least one illustration of the baby in the book was based on Charles Lindbergh Jr.