• Picture Book Snob

Snuggle up with warm yak hugs

The Littlest Yak by Lu Fraser and Kate Hindley

"On the tip of the top of a mountain all snowy, Where the ice-swirling, toe-curling blizzards are blowy,

In a herd full of huddling yaks, big and small,

Lived Gertie, the littlest yak of them all."

If you’re looking for the perfect book to put you in a festive frame of mind, then look no further! This story features starry skies, flurries of snow, warm woolly hugs, the cosiest knitwear and the cutest characters.

Gertie is a young yak who yearns to grow up because she believes "there isn't a thing that a big yak can't do!" After a variety of unsuccessful attempts to become instantly larger, an impatient and frustrated Gertie despairs and worries she will be tiny forever. When a yak emergency requires the unique set of skills that only she possesses, Gertie discovers her "smallness can do something BIG after all."

Gertie is a wonderful character. I love her wide-eyed expressions and how she appears to be looking directly at the reader in many of the scenes. With her determination and dedication to her goals, as well confidence and composure in a crisis, Gertie is an admirable protagonist as well as an endearing one.

We are told how brilliant Gertie is at being a yak, but she can’t see it herself. By measuring her worth based on her size, Gertie fails to appreciate her true value. It's not until she understands that there are advantages to being small, that Gertie grasps her true potential and finally reconciles with her stature.

Rather than being exclusively about a child's experience of the world, The Littlest Yak explores themes that resonate with adults too. Gertie doesn't realise how special she is and not many of us do! Because she focuses so much on her appearance, Gertie doesn't recognise the greatness within her. Children and adults often make the same mistake; we tend to concentrate on perceived flaws rather than celebrating our talents, no matter how old we are.

The dangers of trying to grow up too fast and not appreciating life when "it's here and it's now" are demonstrated by Gertie and the yak she rescues. Gertie's dissatisfaction with her size impacts on her enjoyment of her youth and herself. The tiniest yak gets into peril because they are trying to "clip-clop up cliffs" before they were ready.

As well as delivering a powerful message about self-acceptance, this also taps into a parent's desire to stop time and a child's longing to grow up. Gertie’s mother tells her that “maybe one day you’ll be huge, you’ll be tall, so don’t rush to grow up when it’s great being small.” Some of my favourite lines, are when “Gertie was wrapped in a warm, woolly hug, and into her ear, Mummy whispered with love.” I am always moved when Gertie’s mother says; “As sure as the stars in the glittering sky, you’ll be all grown-up in the blink of an eye.”

I could talk for weeks about the illustrations. They are by Kate Hindley who is extraordinarily talented and whose creations are extremely cuddly, amusing and animated. Even the colour palette is gorgeous. Stunning shades of blue and green are particularly striking against all the stark snow and splashes of bright yellow and warm red.

There are so many beautiful scenes; the huddling herd looks so peaceful and snug, especially when Gertie and her mother cuddle. The backdrops of moonlit and star-studded skies are breathtaking. There's lots of humour too, the montage of Gertie's efforts to grow is hilarious and she perches on top of a stack of books with titles like "Yak and the Beanstalk." It's adorable seeing the herd toss the young yaks in the air at the end and their gleeful faces.

It's not just the images that are incredibly atmospheric - so are the words. Lu Fraser uses exceptionally evocative language and introduces effects like ice-frosted rocks, sliver light, craggy cliff edges and the soft sound of yak hoof beats drumming in the snow. The story rhymes throughout, with lots of alliteration, and sounds lovely when read aloud.

The Littlest Yak is Lu Fraser's first ever picture book and what an impressive debut. The story was inspired by words Lu wrote for her own daughter after realising how much she had grown and how quickly time had passed. Lu has three more picture books currently in the works, including another with The Littlest Yak illustrator Kate Hindley. I can’t wait to read all of them.

I have become slightly obsessed with Kate Hindley too - she has illustrated some of my favourite books and lots more that are on my wishlist. As well as collaborating with some of the most prominent and celebrated authors of the last few years, Kate has recently launched Treacle Street. This is a series of board books which she has written herself and illustrated in her distinct style, and they look fabulous.

The Littlest Yak makes an ideal Christmas gift because of its wintry aesthetics, but the story is suitable for reading throughout the entire year. Small children will relate to Gertie, but we can all learn a lot from her. The littlest and biggest yaks in this house adore this story and the pleasant sensation of being wrapped in a warm woolly hug while reading it.

Read Picture Book Snob's interview with author Lu Fraser

Title: The Littlest Yak

Author: Lu Fraser

Illustrator: Kate Hindley

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication Date: 3rd September 2020

ISBN: 9781471182617