My Lost Mother
Where is my mum? My Lost Mother is a picture book about a missing mum, written and illustrated by Hannamari Ruohonen. Ruohonen has previously illustrated a children’s novel by Tapani Bagge and picture books by Aira Savisaari and Mirva Niininen. Wordless picture books Eläinten kaupunki (’City of Animals”, WSOY 2007), Eläinten kaupungissa sataa lunta (’It’s Snowing in the City of Animals’, WSOY 2008) and Eläinten kaupunki matkustaa (’The City of Animals goes Travelling’, WSOY 2009) are also Ruohonen’s creations, but My Lost Mother is her first own text.
The book’s title and front cover prepare the reader for the story. A little child is hugging her teddybear for comfort, sitting on a bed in a dark room. There is distress and sorrow in the child’s eyes.
The main character and the first-person narrator of the book is a small child whose mother, for some untold reason, is away. She may have gone for a holiday or is out of town on a business trip. The child, however, feels like her mother has abandoned her for good. She has heard mom and dad fighting at night.
Mom had gone. She didn’t want to do anything anymore. She didn’t want to hang my socks on a line to dry and or put them in the washing machine. Mom didn’t even want to see socks anymore. Mom was tired of cleaning the carpet of crumbs that had fallen from my bread. Mom didn’t want to wipe any more yoghurt from the table or crouch under the sofa to get my toy cars.
Ruohonen was inspired to write this story because she works at home. She wanted to write a book about ’What it is like for child to hear that the parent is tired, feeling not up to it, not able to focus on the things that they have wanted themselves: family, which is supposed to be the best thing in life.’
A dog called Nalle (’Teddy’) is involved in the story. He makes the child’s feelings visible. At first, the child and the dog quarrel because they both feel bad. However, Nalle is able to comfort the child, and soon the two are rampaging wildly through mum’s things and throwing them all over the place. Suddenly, the dog finds the child’s hidden fears and his longing for his mom; if mum does not want to be with me, I do not want to be with her, either! However, as Nalle is about to destroy a picture of mum and the narrator-child from when he was just born, the child gets upset and asks the dog to stop. Feelings change rapidly from anger to boisterousness and back to longing. Fortunately, dad is there to comfort the child. When dad is there, wild Nalle turns back into a teddy bear.
The soft colours of the illustrations are made with coloured pencils. They represent the child’s changing feelings: anger, sorrow and, in the end, safety. Teddy the dog with his glaring eyes and yellowish teeth turns into a big and savage dog, then back into a sweet and cuddly soft animal. The child’s yearning for tenderness is strong in illustrations: she wants to cuddle up in her mom’s arms, and in the end, he is able to do just that. This is highlighted in four successive spreads in which the child is snuggled up in somebody’s arms: Nalle’s, dad’s, and finally, mom’s.
The book’s end is open. The child hears his dad’s soft and pleasant voice in his sleep and knows that everything is ok. In the last page he sits in his mother’s soft embrace, but it remains unclear whether he is dreaming or not. In any case, the end is hopeful and feels safe. The reader is left to fill in the gaps.
My Lost Mother helps to deal with the child’s longing and the parent’s guilty consciousness. At some point, every parent is forced to leave their child. Parents go grocery shopping, to work or on holiday, and being apart is hard for everyone. Still, all kinds of emotions, also the negative ones, are a natural part of life. This book helps to verbalize and visualize these feelings.