Spring is on the way (thankfully), but there is still plenty of time to read a wintry story. Dear Yeti by James Kwan is a sweet, imaginative tale that will make these last few weeks of winter seem a little less dreary and a lot more fun.
Told through a series of notes written by two friendly hikers to a shy Yeti, this story playfully twists both the traditional narrative style and the classic tale of the Yeti monster. The story begins as the hikers set off on a quest to find and befriend Yeti. From the very start, the story is fun and engaging. Rather than providing typical narration, Kwan drives the plot forward by portraying the hikers’ notes to Yeti. Interestingly, the hikers are given no names, allowing the readers to fill in this part of the story as they choose. As a result, children can easily imagine themselves as the hikers, thus inserting themselves into the adventure.
Throughout the story, these bird-carried notes reveal crucial information, providing quick summaries of the hikers’ current situation as they trek through the frozen forest. As the hikers venture deeper into the wilderness, they discover Yeti’s tracks, but not Yeti himself. Feeling that Yeti must be nearby, they continue searching.
Soon the hikers encounter obstacles, such as a lack of food and shelter. They inform Yeti of their troubles via note, and mysteriously avoid disaster. At this point, the illustrations become essential to telling the story. Although it is clear from the notes that the hikers do not realize how close they are to Yeti, the illustrations reveal that Yeti is always watching from just out of sight, secretly providing help and protection at every turn. Utilizing a dotted red line to guide the reader along the notes’ paths from the hikers to Yeti, the illustrations interact with the text to provide the reader with details about Yeti’s whereabouts and actions, while the same information is unknown to the hikers. This playful dissonance between the text and illustrations creates a sense of dramatic irony that children will enjoy. Readers know where the shy, caring Yeti is and what he is doing, but the hikers cannot find him and do not realize how much help he provides.
Suddenly, the hikers realize that they have lost their way and have become trapped in a maze of snow and trees. At this point, notes between the hikers and Yeti fade away, and the text shifts to dialogue between the hikers, signaling a loss of all communication with the rest of the world. Even though Yeti is gone, the illustrations continue to play a crucial role in conveying the tone of the story and enhancing the plot. Depicting the hikers as small figures against cool, solid backgrounds on sweeping horizontal spreads, Kwan creates a sense of cold vastness, reflecting the hikers’ feelings of frightening isolation.
Near the journey’s end, when the hikers encounter more peril in the form of a hungry bear, luck seems to have run out, until a new friend heroically saves the day.
By portraying Yeti as a shy, kind being rather than a vicious monster, and by portraying hikers as searchers of friendship rather than hunters, Kwan conveys important ideas such as inner bravery overcoming shyness, the importance of caring for others in need, and the beauty of very different individuals becoming very close friends. This heartwarming portrayal of Yeti, along with the fun illustrations and fast-paced plot, ensure that the story provides plenty of adventure without frightening children. Creating a unique interaction between sparse text and abstract illustrations, Kwan allows the reader’s imagination to fuel this story of adventure and unlikely friendship.