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TREASURE OF NOMADS. Yaku: Haikus about Yaks in Tibet is a children’s book written by St. Mary’s Academy students Anna and Clara Gustafson. The book features haiku accompanied by photographs taken by Anna and Clara’s mother, Kathy Schroeder. Yaku is available at Wallace Books, located at 7241 S.E. Milwaukie Avenue in Portland.

From The Asian Reporter, V18, #21 (May 27, 2008), page 15.

Fur, jerky, and prayer beads

Yaku: Haikus about Yaks in Tibet

By Kathy Schroeder and Anna and Clara Gustafson

For children age 7 through 12

Hardcover, 29 pages, $19.95

By Ronault L.S. Catalani

Many things in modern Tibet, a sky-high and way-west province of the People’s Republic of China, are under enormous strain. Indeed, survival is at issue for many aspects of traditional Tibetan culture, among them highland herdsmen’s way of life. And at the very core of this impending discontinuity is the yak — the longhaired and bow-horned yak as a carefully cultivated super-shopping center for a thousand things traditionally Tibetan.

Yaku: Haikus about Yaks in Tibet is a children’s book about yaks, but of course it’s a lot more for both its Portland writers and us readers.

At the book’s creative end are St. Mary’s Academy students Clara and Anna Gustafson, and the photographic work of their mother, Kathy Schroeder. According to Ms. Schroeder, her husband and their inquisitive daughters’ father, Tom Gustafson, has done business in China for more than 20 years. Their family joined him overseas from 2005 to 2007. During that time both teens and little brother Peter studied in a Chinese boarding school, becoming fairly fluent Mandarin speakers. Mandarin is Tibet’s mainstream language, the lingua franca of commerce and governance.

The idea for Yaku originated from a cramped family car trip out of Tibet’s capitol, Lhasa, and around rural Tibet. It is, among other things, a charming children’s book of 11 kid-conceived compositions and 32 adult-shot photographs.

Says Ms. Schroeder of her girls’ effort and the yak’s predicament, "we thought about the numerous reasons yaks are so important to nomadic life." So their book, in smart poetics and sharp pictures, sets out a series of those reasons.

On the hoof, yaks make possible:

Butter, milk-tea, cheese

Vital to a nomad’s life.

Ahh ... sweet, rich yak milk.

At market stalls and on dinner tables, yaks mean:

Yak meat — staple food

Steak, jerky, stew, soup, momo

Tender, delicious.

And there’s more. There are yak fur jackets, hats, and scarves; there are yak bone prayer beads and yak butter candles; and naturally, there is dehydrated yak poop for everyone’s cooking fuel. Of course, these ladies mean more, they mean to say a lot more than simply manhandling a shopping list of the generous yak’s gifts to Tibet’s high plateau.

Yaku is a sweet and sweeping acknowledgement of endangered traditional Tibet. For all that has been said about this ancient theocratic society — living so near heaven and yet so far from the pragmatism requisite for political survival — no one would honestly disagree that Tibetans are at once a rugged and an elegant community. And no one would argue that they’re likely to transform into people a lot less lovely. Real soon.

That’s why we keep Yaku around, a wide-eyed and wistful and unwary look at that

... Awesome Yak

High altitude Tibet king

Treasure of nomads.


To buy me, visit these retailers:

Powell's Books