September 14, 2023


The Power of YETI. By Rebecca Van Slyke. Illustrations by G. Brian Karas. Nancy Paulsen Books. $18.99.

     There’s a bit of a spelling conundrum here. On the surface, this is merely the story of a little boy who is befriended by “a very tall, very hairy creature” with hairy hands – and the creature’s friends, Bigfoot, Sasquatch, and the Abominable Snow Monster. The giant foursome then shows the boy a trick to make him feel better about things he cannot currently do but that his (human) friends can do. Simple, as picture books for very young readers go, right?

     Exactly who, or what, is the well-intentioned title creature, though? And what, exactly, is the power conveyed to the little boy? “I am a Yeti,” says the very tall and very hairy helper – capital Y and three small letters. The all-caps book title refers to the power of YETI. And the secret to feeling better about being currently unable to do certain things? Well, that turns out to be the power of YETi. At least most of the time.

     The clever idea here is to visualize the notion of learning and accomplishing things over time by envisioning a quartet of mythical monsters (all smiling, happy and enthusiastic) reminding the boy that he cannot YET do certain things but will eventually be able to do them. There is, unfortunately, no hairy bigfooted creature called a YET, so YETI will have to do. So the boy, encouraged by his newfound hirsute friends, learns that he cannot do certain things YET(i) and needs only to engage in encouraging self-talk when he gets frustrated – by reminding himself that he is not unable to tie his shoes or score soccer goals or read big books. He simply cannot do those things YET(i).

     The whole yet/Yeti dynamic adds a layer of amusing confusion to the charm of the book, but it certainly does not undermine the underlying lesson. Take basketball, for instance. The little boy complains that he “can’t reach the hoop,” so the Yeti points to “my buddy the Abominable Snow Monster. He used to be your size, and look at him now!” Indeed, the ASM is resting one elbow on the hoop while towering above the backboard and spinning a basketball on one finger. It may be a tad misleading to suggest that the little not-hairy-not-bigfooted boy will grow to that size, but the boy gets the idea and says he should tell himself he “can’t reach it YETi.”

     By far the funniest of the many amusing illustrations by G. Brian Karas – which are a major reason for the success of the book, the oddity of the spelling issue notwithstanding – are the ones showing how the huge hairy creatures themselves used the power of YETI (or YETi; whatever). Bigfoot is shown shouting “YETI!” repeatedly while steering the bike he has just learned to ride through an obstacle course – he is about four times the size of the bike. The Abominable Snow Monster yells the word repeatedly while learning to jump rope – with every leap, he cracks through the pavement, pieces of which go flying everywhere. Funniest of all is Sasquatch’s use of the word when learning ballet: he is doing an amazing ballet leap (a jeté, for anyone interested in describing hairy-creature-silliness with precision) and is soaring high above the heads of two human children, who look up at his prowess with entirely understandable amazement.

     There is nothing really amazing about what the little boy wants to do – and, in a couple of instances, actually learns to do – during The Power of YETI: he eventually manages to tie his shoes and is able to score a goal in an impromptu soccer game with the four hairy biggies. But of course the point here is not to accomplish big things, but to get past the frustration of being unable to do small ones – especially when other (human) friends of the same age can do those things already. Learning to tell yourself that you will be able to do things in the future is much better than bemoaning your current inability to do them. If it takes a hulking hairy YETI (or YETi or Yeti or yeti) to teach that lesson, then by all means bring on the whole group shown in this book. Think of the toothsome foursome as a set of anti-frustration supercritters – you can call them The Abominables.

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