Written by Justine Brooks


Introducing my little one to… The Moomins

Our writers are (lovingly) foisting pop-culture favourites on their unsuspecting nippers. This week, Justine Brooks accidentally unleashed a monster in her house.

MoominWhen she was two, I introduced my daughter to the Finnish cultural phenomenon beloved across the planet: The Moomins. The effects of doing so? She’s now 11 so I have the smug vantage of hindsight.

She met the Moomins via a 100-episode DVD boxset of the frankly brilliant 1980s felted animation series: each four-and-a-half minute episode contains the family of little creatures resembling mini hippopotami and their loveable assortment of friends; each episode topped and tailed by a haunting, fluty theme tune. This excellent rendition of Tove Jansson’s original 1940s books and 1950s comic strip soon became a much repeated daily favourite.

The Moomins have lots of gentle adventures in which they collect pearly seashells to line the flower beds, drag mysterious treasures from the sea and welcome ever more eccentric characters into their home. Moomin Mama is always there with her elegant handbag, making tea and pancakes and offering soothing words in times of confusion. At least that’s how I remembered it.

Moomin illustrationsI grew up in a central African state where the only children’s TV programme was The Flintstones, broadcast on the country’s sole television channel every Thursday after the seven o’clock news.

So books (along with my mother’s impressively varied menagerie of domestic and bush animals, and the occasional black mamba that would weave its way into our yard searching for the taste of frogs and chickens) were my world, and from our tropical garden my six-year-old self found it very easy to believe that some country far away in Europe was actually populated by Moomins. I believed it as clearly as I believed that fairies lived in the ant holes under the bougainvillea bush and as clearly as I believed that you mustn’t leave stray hairs lying around or they could be used by a witch doctor to put spells on you.

However, back in Yorkshire where my adult self lives and where no one appears to worry about stray hairs, I had failed to consider one thing: The Groke. Her transition from page to screen had made her terrifying.

“Moomin Mama is always there with her elegant handbag, making tea and pancakes and offering soothing words in times of confusion. At least that’s how I remembered it.”

And so in introducing her to the magical, whimsical world of The Moomins I had also gifted my beloved daughter her own personal nightmare: a terrifying spectre who freezes everything in her sight.

So many nights I wiped my sweet girl’s fevered brow and assured her that The Groke was in fact not right outside the window waiting to come in and freeze the room, the bed, the cat and us. Eventually, we got through it together – she through her fear, me through my guilt.

The GrokePerhaps every childhood has its terror. Nightmares are a natural part of growing up, the signifier of a brain processing huge amounts of information all the time. If the focus of that terror comes from a ‘controllable’ source – a book or a film (rather than in the slightly more terrifying image of the witch doctor, who was most definitely a real person) – then it can be contained and hopefully even banished.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, we both still love the Moomins and the little lady now laughs at how she used to be afraid of The Groke.


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Written by Justine Brooks

Justine lives in beautiful north Leeds with her 12-year-old daughter and a lurcher called Lionel. She runs a PR and marketing agency and is writing a novel.