Review by Jamie McNeil
The Snow Bird opens, as every Yakari book does, with series artist Derib’s gorgeous depiction of life in the Sioux village, this time amid a summer downpour. Yakari and his best friend Rainbow are playing in their tipi when the earth begins to rumble and shake before a strong wind carries the tipi into the air and off towards the north. Below them they see strange animals they have never seen before, and when they finally land they discover that they have been transported by Rainbow’s spirit totem Nanabozho, the Great Rabbit and trickster god. They are in the Northern Tundra, he tells them, because, “Mother Earth gave birth to vast numbers of different creatures. You already know many of your animal brothers but there are still countless more you don’t even suspect exist. Some peculiar ones live in these lands where danger lurks. You and Yakari will be the first of your tribe to meet them.” In this land far from home the pair, with a Snowy Owl as their guide, will make new friends among the denizens of the north, but enemies hunt there too.
There are currently a number of illustrated books from an impressive array of talents focusing on green issues and the natural world. In Yakari, Job and Derib, have been talking about these issues for forty years! Every album has a unique idea that offers up some interesting fact about American history, Native American culture or the natural world, all wrapped within a thrilling adventure. The key theme has always been living in harmony with the planet and its people whether human, animal or plant.
There’s a plethora of documentaries and features too, but even with their resources few can match Derib’s and Job’s storytelling prowess. Job’s script only gives enough to inform and guide the reader, leaving Derib’s marvellous illustration to tell the rest. This may be their 18th album together but the smooth transfer of dialogue and art makes it stand out. It’s a glorious example of a creative partnership that know each other so well and can transfer their ideas onto the page. Whether within the compact confines of a tent or the wide scenes of lemmings in their hundreds migrating across a river, a herd of musk oxen gathered in a sudden snowstorm or Yakari and Rainbow’s dangerous dash for safety, the story sweeps you into the highs and lows. The classic style is disarming because you hardly realise you are so engaged until you come to the end of the book. That’s how skilled the creators are.
Now running for over forty years, spanning forty albums and translated into seventeen languages, there still isn’t another series quite like Yakari. A children’s book doesn’t grab the popular attention like one aimed at adults, yet The Snow Bird is a masterclass in sequential storytelling every budding writer and illustrator should read. The added bonus is that it’s a lovely story, engaging and informative without being preachy, self-righteous or annoying. Jerome Sancaitin’s excellent translation ensures that it retains the original fun and respectful tone with just the right touch of danger and excitement. Yakari always has something to surprise and will inspire any little tyke to go camping out in the garden.
The next album to look forward to is Yakari: The Wall of Fire.