The Hellman children must make dowith a nanny while their mother is away at a spa. The only problem? Their nanny is a monster. Grah is hairy, dusty, and doesn't talk. When the siblings discover that other neighborhood kids have been left with similar creatures, they start to wonder where the monsters came from. With the parents away, the kids work together (between bickering) to figure out the mystery of the monsters. Tolonen seamlessly intertwines contemporary life with a world full of strange creatures. Monster Nanny is at once a refreshing change of pace and a return to timeless adventure.
About the Author
Tuutikki Tolonen is the author of several acclaimed children’s books, as well as a creative writing teacher. Monster Nanny is her first middle grade novel. Pasi Pitkanen has illustrated several books for children. He lives in Helsinki, Finland.
Read an Excerpt
CHAPTER 1The Fateful Breakfast
As so often happens, it all started in the morning. Mom was wiping down the sink with a small sponge. The Hellman children—Halley, eleven, Koby, nine, and Mimi, six years and four months—were sitting at the round kitchen table, eating corn flakes. The news was on the radio: Schools have let out for the summer, warm weather on the way, weekend traffic running smoothly . . . Mom’s sponge hovered above the sink as she turned to the children. She was nervous and for a good reason. “It’s the morning of my departure, but the train tickets still haven’t come,” she complained. “I’m sure that grand prize drawing win was a hoax. Trip to Lapland and two weeks of relaxing treatments! Too good to be true. Such things just don’t happen.” Mom turned back to the sink and continued scrubbing while mumbling, “But I still believed it. I even packed my suitcase all ready, but there’s no sign of the tickets.” The children looked at one another. “And by the way, no sign of the nanny, either,” Halley said. “No sign of the nanny,” Mom repeated. “Nor Invisible Voice,” Mimi continued. Mom frowned. “But Invisible Voice is often heard,” Koby corrected Mimi. “One who is heard a lot doesn’t need to be seen,” Halley giggled. “Stop that Invisible Voice nonsense,” Mom said sternly. “Dad’s coming home tonight, as you well know. He’s already on the plane.” “I don’t think he’s on the plane,” Halley whispered to Koby. Invisible Voice was not very good at coming home on time. “What are you whispering?” Mom asked. “Nothing,” Koby answered quickly. The doorbell rang. “Here they are!” Mom exclaimed. She looked around. The kitchen was still messy. “I’ll get it,” Halley said, jumping up. Mom quickly swiped the breakfast crumbs off the table with the sponge and hurried to the hall after Halley.
The postman stood at the door. He was not the usual postman, but smarter-looking and more energetic. He wore a yellow jacket, gray baseball cap, and gray tie. He had definitely not ridden to their street on the post office bike. “I wonder if Mary Hellman is at home?” he asked politely. “I have a package. Someone must confirm receipt.” “Confirm?” Halley repeated. “Sign,” the postman explained. Mom wiped her hands on her apron and stepped forward. “I am Mary Hellman,” she said. “I’ve won a trip in a prize drawing. This must be the train tickets.” The postman nodded and handed Mom a paper and pen. “Right there. And your name in capitals, if you please.” Mom signed. The postman handed her an envelope. “Here we are. Have an excellent day!” He raised his cap and disappeared down into the stairway. Mom carefully tore the envelope open. “Oh, yes, here they are,” she said, relieved, and pulled a folded sheet of paper out of the envelope, with the train tickets inside. “What does it say?” Halley asked. Mom unfolded the sheet of paper and read out loud:
“Dear Recipient, Once again: congratulations to the winner! At last, it is time for your trip. Time to recharge your batteries, relax, and learn new things. Time to think of your own well-being, wake up to birdsong and the tickle of the sun’s rays. Welcome! After two weeks you will be like a new person. Our relaxation camp, the exact location of which will be revealed as soon as you arrive, starts tomorrow at noon. The camp duration is exactly two weeks, and in all that time you will need no money, just warm clothing and an energetic camping mindset. After the two weeks, you will be returned to your home, unless you choose to go to some other place. The special camp train leaves the central railway station at eight p.m. today. Please, do not be late. Your train tickets are enclosed.”
“Special camp train!” Halley echoed. “Looks like Mom wasn’t the only one to win a relaxation trip.” “Idiot, the others must pay for it themselves, of course,” Koby corrected her. “Isn’t that right, Mom?” Mom didn’t reply but stared at the letter. Her brow became strangely crinkled. “What else does it say?” Halley asked. “Hell’s bells,” Mom grumbled. “It says here that because your dad travels for work, the nanny will stay day and night until I get back. Two weeks, night and day!” “Didn’t you tell them that Invisible Voice is coming home?” Koby asked. “I mean, that Dad’s coming?” “I thought it was self-evident!” Mom said. “Are we having a nanny move in?” Mimi asked, delighted. She liked all the staff at the daycare center. “They never said anything about nights,” Mom muttered. “I thought we’d get someone who tidies up and cooks dinner a few times a week. This is a different thing altogether.” “Is Invisible Voice’s coming home canceled?” Halley whispered to Koby. Koby shrugged. He really didn’t know. “They should have made this clear before,” Mom went on, shaking her head. “A total stranger! Where do we put her in this place? We haven’t got a guest room.” “Your bed will be free,” Mimi piped up. “This has gotten too complicated,” Mom said, not happy. Then she was quiet again and continued reading. “What else does it say?” Koby asked, when Mom’s lips suddenly clamped together in a tight line. “Read it out loud!” Mimi said, agitated. “And what is this supposed to mean?” Mom asked in a startled voice, and read:
“You will have the opportunity to participate in a secret special experiment, in which we are researching new options for child care work. The nanny that will arrive at your home is a half-human fully trained for the job—”
“Half-human!” yelled Mimi. “What? Read it again!” “Mimi, don’t yell,” Halley asked. “Mom, please read on.” Mom continued:
“. . . half-human, according to an old definition, a monster or a troll . . .”
Halley suppressed a giggle. “This is a prank!” “Candid Camera.” Koby grinned, peering around the room. But Mimi watched Mom, thrilled. Tickling, happy thrilled. Could it be true? A monster in her home. Nanny and monster. Mom’s voice was tense as she went on:
“We would like to stress that the creature is safe. However, the experiment is very confidential, and under no circumstances must you tell anyone about the creature. A breach of this obligation for confidentiality results in a set penalty. Moreover, we wish to remind you that when you accepted this prize, you signed a confidentiality agreement . . .”
Mom raised her eyes from the letter. She looked cross. “That agreement didn’t say anything about half-humans and monsters!” she griped. “I thought that I mustn’t tell anybody about the kinds of relaxation treatments they do! This is a completely different matter. My children are not guinea pigs. Nobody sets any penalties on me in my own home.” “I can keep a secret!” Mimi shouted. “I want the half-human to come here!” “Mimi, don’t shout,” Koby said. Just then the doorbell rang again. “For goodness’ sake,” Mom said angrily. Halley stepped to the door and opened it. A total shocked silence descended on the hall. At the door stood a brown-black creature. It was big and wide and almost filled the whole doorway. But what was it? It had two enormous feet, on which it stood solidly in place. It had two enormous hands. Its palms were like saucepan lids, and each of its four fingers like a fat barbecue sausage. In one of its hands, the creature held a crumpled scrap of paper. But did it have a thick, matted fur coat, or was it wearing a coverall made from ragged scraps of cloth? A strange smell, reminiscent of a musty cellar, spread into the hall. The creature rolled its big, round yellow eyes and grunted something. Mimi hid behind Mom. Behind the creature stood a messenger in a gray suit, a different man from the earlier one. He nodded a nervous greeting, cleared his throat, and said: “This has been sent to you. Can you sign, please?” He slid an electronic receipt device past the creature and handed it to Mom. Mom stared at the creature, her mouth slightly open. “Mom, sign your name,” Halley said, and nudged her gently. “What do we do with that?” Mom asked. “It comes with instructions,” the messenger answered, and coughed. “Go on, sign,” Halley repeated. “What if I don’t want it?” Mom asked quietly. “There are no actual alternatives,” the messenger said. “I was told to bring this here. There is no return address.” “Go on, Mom, just sign,” Halley said. “Well, if it definitely comes with instructions,” Mom murmured, sighing. She signed the screen in slightly shaky handwriting. The messenger snatched his device back. “Have a very nice day,” he said quickly, and slipped away. The Hellman family and their new nanny stood at the door like statues. Halley stared at the creature. Koby stared at the creature. Mom’s eyes flitted now to the creature, now to her children, because she didn’t know whether or not the children should be quickly saved and if so, how, since they were on the fifth floor of a large apartment building and the creature filled the whole doorway, so there was no way out. “Mom, is that the monster?” Mimi whispered from behind Mom’s back. The creature let out a hollow grunt and pushed the scrap of paper at Halley, who happened to be standing nearest to it. Halley hesitantly took the paper. The creature grunted again. Mom caught her breath, startled. Halley unfolded the paper. It was tatty, grubby, and a bit torn. A little lump of soil fell out of it and crumbled on the floor. “This must be the instructions,” Halley said. Mom frowned. “What does it say?” Koby asked. Halley read out loud:
“Receiving family:Hellman. Sent:Trained half-human, commonly known as a ‘monster.’ Specialty:Child care and domestic work. Character:Not violent, likes TV, is happy in human houses. Other notes:No proper name, addressed as ‘monster nanny’ or simply ‘monster.’ Finds its own food outdoors during darkness. NB: Never leaves children home alone! English-language skills:Poor. Understands a little, does not speak. Language skills not expected to improve. NB: Lack of language does not affect ability to work. Accommodation:Hall closet (closet to be emptied immediately).”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” Mom snapped. “I wonder how this’ll end?” Halley and Koby looked at each other. Interesting indeed. How would it end? Mimi sidled out from behind Mom’s skirt. She looked at the monster and smiled. “It’s not dangerous,” Mimi said, putting out her little hand to the monster. “Look at its eyes. It wants to stay here.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was an odd story that I didn't really connect with. Halley, Koby and Mimi are three young siblings. Their mother won a vacation to Lapland and part of the prize was to provide a nanny, a monster nanny. The nanny was delivered with one page of instructions. It was a strange, hairy, dusty beast which reminded me a bit of Cousin It from the Adam's Family. It spend a lot of time in the closet, didn't speak, but did not seem dangerous. Mimi, the youngest child is a bit strange. She talks to a blue bathrobe, so it is no surprise that she developed some sort of communication with the Monster. When it was discovered that other children in the neighbourhood also had a Monster Nanny and that their parents had won a trip, they banded together to try and figure out where they came from, what they eat, what the needed to get home. The monsters had their own language, habits and families. The children worked together to take care of each other and offer some solutions. It was nice that the children figured out that the Monsters needed something and helped them determine what it was. There were black and white illustrations scattered throughout the book that were cute and gave you an idea of what the kids and the monsters looked like. They were not scary looking at all. A cute book, that middle grade students that like monsters might enjoy.
What a wonderful, wonderful book – written ostensibly for children, but I suspect many an adult will fall in love with it too. The mother of Halley (11), Koby (9) and Mimi (6) has won an all-expenses paid trip to a spa in Lapland. To make it easy for her to get away, the prize organisers have supplied a nanny to look after the kids. Their father – perpetually away on business, and referred to as “The Invisible Voice” – is expected home at any time. The only problem with this, is that the nanny is a very dusty monster – oh, and every mother in the street has won a similar prize (and monster!), fathers are few and far between. So, most of the children in the neighbourhood are to be left (human) adultless for two weeks in the charge of never-seen-before, big, hairy monsters, who come with an introductory piece of paper stating that they are harmless, trained for childcare and domestic duties, don’t speak, like TV and will sleep in a closet. Thankfully, the children come from a long line of imminently capable fictional kids – think Famous Five, Pippi Long Stocking etc. – who don’t really need adults around. They realise that they need to find out more about monsters. Koby is a reader (as all great kids are), so he sends Halley to the library (no googling on a computer, a Library!), and miraculously she happens on the one and only book written about monsters such as their nanny, Grah. Armed with Runar’s treatise on monsters, and the advice of Mimi’s talking bathrobe, the children organise the neighbourhood, take good care of the monsters, trap the blood-sucking fairy-frog, and learn about the evils of indentured servitude and freedom. The children are beautifully captured by the author: the sibling interactions, the relationships with their parents, their resilience and the ready acceptance of the unknown and unusual. It is the youngest, Mimi, and her talking bathrobe (only she can hear it) who make the most headway with understanding the monsters: “Mimi: Do they want to go back to . . . er. Wherever they came from? Bathrobe: Naturally. Everybody wants to go back home. They don’t really fit in here … And people usually start to tease and bully anybody who is different … A monster is a monster, not a nanny. Understand?”. Soon, Mimi has everyone working to help the monsters. However, “Can the bathrobe be trusted? Does a sensible human being rely on the advice of a bathrobe? If the bathrobe said that the solution was to be found in the book, could one be sure? And what if it wasn’t?” The book supports the bathrobe: “The monster would not choose to be slave labor for humans. Regular human work would be alien to its free, wild nature”. So, an amazingly inventive and original story, with a solid moral underpinning. What more could you want in a children’s book? I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review