Reviews 2012

Sureva mieli sanoin ja kuvin: Läheisensä menettäneen lapsen kokemus Riitta Jalosen ja Kristiina Louhen kuvakirjoissa [The Grieving Mind in Words and Images: The Bereaved Child´s Experience in Riitta Jalonen and Riitta Louhi´s Picture Books]

Sureva mieli sanoin ja kuvin: Läheisensä menettäneen lapsen kokemus Riitta Jalosen ja Kristiina Louhen kuvakirjoissa [The Grieving Mind in Words and Images: The Bereaved Child´s Experience in Riitta Jalonen and Riitta Louhi´s Picture Books]. Mirja Kokko. Tampere: The University of Tampere Press, 2010. 337 pages.

Children can face a wide range of difficulties in their lives, including the death of a loved one. Children's literature provides a means to address these issues, often providing the necessary distance and often by addressing the topic obliquely. In this way, children´s literature can help children to mourn. At the moment, children's literature can be found in almost all topics, but research on Finnish children's books is not easily available. Mirja Kokko's dissertation is a welcome addition to this field of research.

Kokko's study Sureva mieli sanoin ja kuvin – läheisensä menettäneen lapsen kokemus Riitta Jalosen ja Kristiina Louhen kuvakirjoissa (The grieving mind in words and images: The bereaved child´s experience in Riitta Jalonen and Kristiina Louhi's picture books) deals with the theme of death and the representations of a bereaved children´s grief, longing and recovery in narrative fiction. Kokko's main interest is in finding out how children´s experiences of grief and longing are described in children´s picturebooks which deal with the death of a family member and how effectively these books could be used to support young children. The story of a grieving child can offer an important identification item and help children to understand that, in spite of the death of a loved one, life will continue and joy and feelings of happiness will return to their lives.

The children's books in Kokko´s study are written by Riitta Jalonen and illustrated by Kristiina Louhi. They describe losses which children cannot usually find in their support circle of friends. Lisabet, nalle ja pikkuveli, jota ei ole (1994, Elisabeth, the Teddy Bear, and the Little Brother Who is No More) is a description of Elisabet, who has lost her baby brother, and Tyttö ja naakkapuu (2004, The Girl and the Jackdaw Tree) is a description of a girl who loses her father. Tyttö ja naakkapuu includes two sequels, Minä, äiti ja tunturihärkki (2005 translated as Tundra Mouse Mountain by J. M. Ledgard) and Revontulilumi (2006, Northern Lights Snow), which describe how the grieving girl comforts herself and how the memories of loss gradually transform. The author Riitta Jalonen´s and the illustrator Kristiina Louhi`s works have received many awards and have been translated into many languages. After the tsunami in Japan in 2011, there was a revival of interest in Asia in Riitta Jalonen's and Kristiina Louhi's book Tyttö ja naakkapuu.

The theme of the death has always been present in children's literature. In traditional fairy tales, death is a very common occurrence. It is described as a temporary event or the death may occur in the stories without much grief. Death was also foregrounded in the writings of nineteenth century children's stories including literary fairy tales such as H. C. Andersen´s The Little Match Girl, which depicts death in a liberating and positive way. However, death is not a very common theme in Finnish children’s literature, and was rarely incorporated into books for youngsters before the end of the 1960s. Some of the books that were produced were so-called ‘precision books’ because of their precisely defined target group such as children suffering from cancer. Since 2000, descriptions of death in Finnish children's literature have shifted away from the event of dying to more detailed accounts of the feelings and experiences of children who are bereaved. In books such as Tyttö ja naakkapuu by Jalonen and Louhi, death is described as a turning point, and the focus is on how the child's life changes as a result of the loss.

Kokko's dissertation is based on Fludernik's (1996) idea that stories are always based on human experentiality. The analysis of the picture books is built on assumptions about the structure of a narrative text outlined in both classical narratology and recent cognitive narrative theory. The study is guided by the principle of dialogicity, which is observed in six different levels comprising the following oppositions: theory and interpretations, formal and thematic features, word and image, the scripts of an art form and real life, the sequentiality and episodicity of picture books and the work depicting a child's grief and the reality surrounding it. The different narrative methods employed in the Kokko's analysis reflect the shapelessness and uncontrollability of grief. Instead of systematically classifying different narrative forms, Kokko has attempted to reveal how the narrative solutions contribute to the texts’ ability to communicate.

To illustrate her argument, Kokko alternates between analyses of single images and sequences of the images and text. According to Kokko, Jalonen´s narrative style is characterized by its many gaps and rifts, and Louhi´s illustrations are simple and undetailed. Kokko praises these features as they allow the reader plenty of space for interpretation: the narrative gaps advance the dialogue between the work that depicts grief and the reader's interpretation. The stories of grief leave most questions unanswered and the children have to live with the fact that the mystery of the death cannot be resolved. Nevertheless the stories can provide the reader with thought-provoking questions and enable them to think through their emotions, even though the answers are not forthcoming.

Mirja Kokko's dissertation draws connections between the particular books under study and wider discussions of children's literature and the child as a reader. One unusual feature of her study is the incorporation of interviews with the author. Kokko claims that the results of her study are valuable for parents, teachers and other persons working with children. I couldn´t agree more.

Juli-Anna Aerila
University of Turku, Finland