[review] Tuutikki Tolonen: Monster Nanny

Tolonen, Tuutikkimörkövahti
Illustrations Pasi Pitkänen
Mörkövahti [’Monster Nanny’]
Tammi 2015
ISBN 978-951-31-8475-9

In folk tales, the role of monsters, trolls and boogeymen have traditionally been to scare children. However, different methods of upbringing have since taken over. Children of today get to learn that monsters do not exist, which is also the case with the children of the Finnish family Hellemaa. Therefore the surprise is even bigger when a hairy monster appears at their front-door, escorted by a messenger boy. The monster comes with instructions that explain its nature and habits. This is a secret special test and the monster is supposed to move into the Hellemaa apartment to help with the children and household while the mother is on a relaxing holiday in Lapland. The mother has her doubts while the children Hilla (11), Kaapo (9) and Maikki (6) are extremely interested in the monster nanny.

When the mother has been despatched and their father is stuck at a faraway airport, the children concentrate on studying the monster nanny and the ways to spend time with it. Good helpers are an old monster encyclopaedia written by a scientist called Runar Kalli, which the children check out from the public library, and the talking bathrobe Maikki owns. The robe sits on the toilet seat and has silent conversations with Maikki while she is having a bath. The bathrobe gives hints and tells news to Maikki. Moreover, the observations of Runar Kalli are also very useful, and the monster encyclopaedia is read bit by bit throughout the novel. Gradually, a picture about these monsters, or trolls, gets clearer. In the setting, similarities between the relationship of the Hellemaa children and their distant father can be seen: How to meet the father who only participates in the family life over the phone and whose looks are already fading from the children’s minds?

In children’s literature, monsters and trolls are rarely one-dimensionally bad or scary. This is also the case with the nanny of the Hellemaa family. The monster can be fierce and sinister, but also kind and tender. Even though it generally communicates by grunting, the open-minded Maikki understands it immediately. Trust rapidly springs up between them and grows into a friendship so sound that the little girl is ready to follow her monster friend into another realm. What happens to Maikki, together with several other unsolved secrets and incidents, is left open at the end of the novel. Although ‘Monster Nanny’ is over 300 pages long, the reader is left feeling that he or she has been shown only a glimpse of the fantasy world and its creatures, created by the Finnish author Tuutikki Tolonen. However, the adventures will resume in the next novel, Mörköreitti (‘Monster Route’, Tammi 2016).

The black and white illustrations by Pasi Pitkänen lighten the reading experience. When the monster nanny participates in everyday situations, humour and absurdism ensues. Pitkänen creates scary visions skilfully by utilising composition with light and shadow, which also thematically agree with this monster book. The diversity, difference and otherness, represented by the monster nanny as a character, are palpably topical at the time of rampant xenophobia. Everybody could learn something from the 6-year-old Maikki: She does not differentiate between discussing with her father, the monster nanny or her bathrobe. The most important thing is to listen and be open-minded.

Emilia Kämäräinen

Also by Tuutikki Tolonen and Pasi Pitkänen:
Tuutikki Tolonen together with Pasi Pitkänen, Mörköreitti (Tammi 2016)

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