Have you ever written a night book? It is similar to a diary, which is called a day book in Finnish, but it is written at night. Yökirja (’Night book’) is written by Inka Nousiainen and illustrated by Satu Kettunen. It is a philosophical picture book with many layers and meanings. It evokes thoughts of friendship, love, diversity and life in general. Kettunen’s beautiful illustrations glow in nocturnal colours and moods. All in all, it is a fine and interesting picture book!
The main character of the book is a six-year-old boy called Kuu (“Moon”). He is allergic to sunlight and therefore only goes out at night. One night he meets a girl and a dog sitting under a tree. She is called Raa, after the Egyptian sun god. Her dog is called Sadness. Kuu received his name because his mother’s belly was round like the moon during her pregnancy.
In many ways, Kuu and Raa are the polar opposites of each other, not unlike like the sun and the moon. Kuu does not cry at all, even when he is sad, whereas Raa cries quite often. And not just because she is sad, but also when she is happy. Instead of an opposite, Kuu actually finds his counterpart in Raa. He feels that their thoughts constantly interact. They meet at night without having to even plan where they meet. They always find each other, without any words. Kuu and Raa are not just friends, they are soulmates. Even when they are not together, they can feel each other’s presence. Such beautiful love – even though they are just children.
Yökirja is a story about tolerance and difference. During the day, Kuu has to wear a space suit that protects him from sunlight. At first, he is too embarrassed to tell his friend about it but the fear is unnecessary: Raa finds the space suit cool and it makes her like Kuu even more. Friends respect each other the way they are. The book encourages the reader to respect other people and accept differences.
One nuance in the book is loneliness. Before meeting Raa, Kuu must have been lonely, although this is not mentioned in the book. His mother still is. She sews self-made friends, the first one of which was made for herself and many more for other people. There are a lot of lonely people in the world. During the night, the mother sleeps in the arms of her fabric friend. It is kind of sad, although the book is not sad at all. Yökirja makes you want to believe that everyone has someone waiting for them, out there in the world. That special person makes your life meaningful. The very fortunate ones find that special someone.
The silence Kuu experiences is similar to loneliness. The silence appears in the illustrations as a huge whale with gentle eyes, taking up the whole spread. The colours of Kettunen’s artwork are mainly nocturnal blues, greens and purples. Daytime is only present in a handful of spreads. On those occasions, the colour scheme is completely different, more pale and yellow. The collage illustrations combine a wide range of surfaces, colours and textures. There are many cut-out shapes, drawn lines and painted surfaces. The cut-out elements form shades. Some shapes are cut out of old magazines and colourful papers. Faces and other details are drawn with thin strokes. The viewpoints and perspectives vary a lot from close-ups to landscapes.
Nousiainen’s text is lyrical and beautiful. The language utilises a lot of metaphors, such as the light that bites like a snake and the stars that are dim paper. The names are unique. Raa’s little sister is called Oo La Laa. In addition to names, some generic words are also capitalised, such as Friend, Silence, Owl, Less important and so on. All these details have an alienating effect, moving the text closer to a fairy tale and a fantasy.
Yökirja is a magnificent and multi-layered picture book which gives the reader something new every time it is read.
Also by Inka Nousiainen and Satu Kettunen:
Inka Nousiainen, Kivienkeli (Otava 1993)
Satu Kettunen, Otso Aarnisen salaperäinen seikkailu (Tammi 2014)