Tuutikki Tolonen (text) and Pasi Pitkanen (illustrator), Monster Nanny, Allen & Unwin, January 2020, 304 pp., RRP $16.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781760525590
This book was first published in Finland in 2015, where it won the Arvid Lydecken Prize. It has since been translated into multiple languages and is currently in development as a feature film. Trolls and monsters have long been part of Finnish folklore, and they’ve been brought into the 21st Century in this novel for young readers. Halley, Kobi and Mimi are three primary school age kids on their summer holidays. Their mother has just won a two-week holiday at a spa in Lapland, and their father is travelling for work, on his way home. Their mother has been advised by letter that a “half human” but fully trained and safe nanny will be provided to care for the children while she is away. Sure enough, shortly Grah dutifully arrives – huge, hairy, dusty and silent. Their mother is uncertain about leaving the children, but their father will be home soon, so she agrees to go. The children are soon caught up in what appears to be a widespread trial of monster labour, with more sinister characters involved. They discover more about the monsters with the help of a book from the library and set out to liberate them from exploitation.
This is an entertaining and funny book which should fire up the imaginations of young readers. The Finnish setting is an interesting one not often available to young Australian readers. The characters are all quite individual and well developed, especially Halley, Kobi and Mimi. Some of the turns of phrase seem slightly odd to the English speaker. It could be the Finnishness of the original text coming through, or perhaps a rushed translation. It was slightly jarring as an Australian to have the children refer to their mother as “Mom”, but that is a minor quibble. Overall, it is a fun read with an appealing cover which would be suitable for middle and upper primary readers.
Reviewed by Rebecca Kemble