Like the title characters in their new book, author Kyo Maclear and illustrator Esmé Shapiro are an unassuming comedic dream team. Maclear writes with the perceptive, gentle quirkiness for which she’s become known. Shapiro’s debut picture book, Ooko, came out last year, but the off-kilter charm and wit of her mixed-media illustrations show that she has the chops to join the next generation of great picture-book artists. The two make a dynamite, inventive pair and they infuse the tried-and-true odd-couple premise of Yak and Dove with bursts of irresistibly sweet weirdness.
Yak and Dove are best pals, but their friendship is tested over the book’s three short sections. In the first chapter, “If We Were Twins,” the two muse over the hilarious possibilities of sharing clothes, rhyming nicknames, and a large home complete with a swimming pool and water slide. The talk soon turns to their many differences, which precipitates their falling out. In the second chapter, Yak laments to Marmot about losing his best friend (yes, he actually says “Oh, Marmot, I am lamenting”), and it takes a talent competition and the planting of a garden for Yak and Dove’s friendship to be re-established by the story’s end. Reminiscent of Arnold Lobel’s final Frog and Toad story, in which the amphibians experience the paradox of being alone together, Yak and Dove remark on how “The world is so noisy. So very noisy quiet.”
Inspired by actual yak habitat, Shapiro riffs on the Himalayas in her illustrations. She fills her muted watercolour, gouache, and coloured-pencil landscapes with snow-covered mountains and one-room temples with elaborate spires. This is a world in which yaks live in multicoloured homes, foxes ride penny farthings, and doves take business calls on cellphones. Maclear’s tickling animal repartee would shine just as brightly alongside more predictable illustrations, but Shapiro’s world-building reinforces that Yak and Dove have a truly unique friendship in a truly unique place. The story is a fresh friendship fable full of genuine kook and authentic feeling.