There is a warmth I feel when reading certain children’s books that I can only describe as a happy glow. I felt it when reading Ottoline and the Yellow Cat and Flora & Ulysses; and I felt it again for Eva Ibbotson’s new book, The Abominables.
High in the Himalayas, a family of yeti lives in a peaceful valley with a human girl named Lady Agatha, who has taught them manners, hygiene, and how to speak and read. They lived happily for years, but when tourists begin swarming the mountain, the girl–now an old woman–knows it is time for the yeti to move out of their valley. What’s more, she has a plan. Meanwhile at the Hotel Himalaya, business has never been better. Giant footprints have been found in the snow and their yeti vacation package has them booked solid. There, Con–the son of the hotel’s chef–longs to see a yeti, but he does not like the sort of people these creatures are bringing to the hotel. These are not sightseers. They have come with guns and greedy hearts.
That night he couldn’t get to sleep. He was just too horribly angry. He knew what would happen if one of those rich, bored, stupid people really did stumble across a yeti. Nobody who cared deeply about those mysterious creatures could even afford to buy a cup of tea in the Hotel Himalaya, let alone go on the ridiculously expensive Yeti Safari. So it was only a question of time.
“I wish they had never found those footprints,” Con said to himself. And then he knew what he had to do.
As I’m sure you’ve guessed, Con goes to help the yeti. Upon finding their valley, Lady Agatha asks him to help the yeti get to Farley Towers, her former home in Hampshire, as she is too old to make the trip herself. He agrees and enlists the help of his sister and a kindly refrigerated lorry driver named Perry. Together, the humans smuggle the five yeti and their pet yak, Hubert, out of the valley and begin their long, perilous journey to Britain.
The story of The Abominables is simple, but its magic lies in its details and heart. For example, the yeti have backwards-pointing feet, so as to mislead anyone trying to track them. They also have a charming, though occasionally annoying, habit of apologizing to their food before eating it (“Sorry, tree.”). As for their faces, well:
Yetis have huge, round, intelligent eyes as big as saucers. It you stop and look into a yeti’s eyes instead of just running away and screaming, you can’t be afraid. Yetis also have snub noses and big ears, and the ears have a most useful flap on them, an ear lid, which they can close. This saves them from getting earaches in the fierce Himalayan winds and is also useful when they don’t want to hear what people are saying….Best of all are their smiles. “Before I had seen a yeti smile,” Lady Agatha would later say, “I didn’t know what a smile was.”
This is a gently told tale, but it does contain some grim challenges and events that shake the yetis’ faith in the goodness of people–for a little while anyway. It is a journey well worth taking, perfect for boys and girls in the 3rd and 4th grades. It will make you chuckle, smile, gasp, and cheer. The story is bolstered by sweet, folksy illustrations by Fiona Robinson.
This last picture is of Hubert, probably my favorite character in the book. He is a dim-witted baby yak, forever looking for his mother and usually in very much the wrong place: “Hubert had had a dreadful day. First he’d gone up to someone who he was absolutely certain was his mother, but she hadn’t been, and had been rude about it…By this time Hubert was so muddled that he’d gone and buried his head in a hole, meaning to wait till things got clearer inside his head.” Poor Hubert!
It’s impossible to read this book and not be smitten, which is a wonderful thing, indeed.