Päike ja Pilv 2019, 36 pp
ISBN 9789949737635

Piret Jaaks and Marju Tammik’s picture book Mommy’s Dragon may be a treat for little booklovers, but it can also offer some consolation to their stressed-out parents.

Piret Jaaks has studied theater, worked as a journalist, and is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in dramaturgy from the Estonian Academy of Music and Theater. Primarily an author of plays, short prose, and literary reviews, Mommy’s Dragon is her second children’s book. Both this latest children’s work and her first, The Mystery of the Vanished Sock (2017), open with familiar details from everyday life – in the latter, it is a sock that has lost its partner. Mommy’s Dragon proceeds from a chaotic situation every family has encountered, but is explored through an unusual metaphor – living inside of the little girl’s mommy is an fearsome, fire-breathing dragon that shows itself from time to time.

When might that be, you ask? The narrating tot appears to have some notion of it herself: for instance, when jam drips onto the floor from a toppled jar or spilled juice makes Mommy’s laptop crash. Situations such as these tend to be agonizingly common in families with small children. And at such moments, “Mommy gets red-hot inside and can’t help but scream: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!” 

Jaaks’s story is warmly written, empathetic towards both children and adults, and reaches a moving conclusion. The dragon is frightening, but at the same time, the tiny narrator tries to “tame” it by imagining the beast as colorful and precious. She realizes she would even be sad if her mommy didn’t have the dragon anymore. Still, can one actually manage to raise any child without having such a creature inside of them? Whereas Estonian children’s literature has habitually personified youthful mischief in the form of various imaginary beings, the focus in Jaaks’s book is flipped to manifest the parent’s emotions. As funny as it may be, the story uses the terrible dragon to humanize the parent themselves, allowing them the right to work through negative feelings.

Wonderful illustrations by Marju Tammik add tone and expressiveness to the story – Mommy’s Dragon is her second children’s book, too. Having worked mainly as a fashion illustrator, Tammik’s style is genuine, vivid, and fresh. Vibrant blotches, stylized characters, collages, and dynamics characterize her contributions. The mother-daughter relationship that remains trusting in spite of every mishap is particularly accented by the artistic illustrations. The scenes observed through a child’s eyes are complemented by an alternative graphic vision with flair.

Mari Niitra is the director of the Liivi Museum and an assistant professor of children’s literature at the University of Tartu. She has published a wealth of articles, academic and otherwise, on Estonian children’s literature, and is a co-author of the books A Dictionary of Children’s Literature, Estonian Children’s and Young-Adult Literature 1991–2012,  and The Gold Reserve of Estonian Children’s Literature.

tagged in Piret Jaaks