The Year of the Monkey: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin

THE YEAR OF THE MONKEY:
TALES FROM THE CHINESE ZODIAC

Written by Oliver Chin
Illustrated by Kenji Ono
(Immedium; $15.95, Ages 4-8)

新年好 / 新年好 (Xīnnián hǎo)
‘New Year goodness!’

The_Year_of_the_Monkey

We love getting the word out about Oliver Chin’s Tales from the Chinese Zodiac and this year we’re delighted to share his latest, The Year of the Monkey. If you know someone born in 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, and of course, 2016, they were born in the Year of the Monkey. I’m proud to have been born in The Year of the Dog, but I think many readers will enjoy figuring out which family members’ birthdays fall in the Year of the Monkey.

In just 36 pages, you’ll get to learn about the Chinese culture, its New Year, and its organization of time “in cycles of twelve years,” and symbolized by the zodiac circle. This circle consists of animals whose unique personality traits are supposed to be representative of those found in individuals born under that symbol.

 

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Interior artwork from The Year of the Monkey: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin with illustrations by Kenji Ono, Immedium ©2016.

 

The little monkey Max was born to the Queen and her prankster husband, the Monkey King. “A chimp off the old block,” Max was eager to follow in his father’s footsteps, so much so that when he began school, he found it difficult to sit still and follow the teacher’s instructions. Maybe you know a child like this, or were just like Max when you were a child. Playing a sport is often a great way to channel all this pent up energy and that’s exactly what Max did. His friend Kai introduced him to jianzi, or shuttlecock, and was soon noticed by the coach. “Practice your technique and not your talking and you’ll go far.”

 

The Year of the Monkey_spread2

Interior artwork from The Year of the Monkey: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin with illustrations by Kenji Ono, Immedium ©2016.

 

Encouraged by his father, Max was eager to register for the annual shuttlecock tournament to try to beat the reigning champions. First though, Max, along with his pal, Kai, had to practice, practice, practice to earn a place in the big match. The boys’ commitment to honing their jianzi skills proved successful. While not initially keen on Max pursuing the sport, Max’s mother was impressed with his devotion. She even advised him to find a “special move,” something the Monkey King was thrilled to provide. After making it past the semi-finals and into the finals, the boys were now poised to face off with their formidable opponents, Tiger and Dragon, depicted as three times their size and certain of winning. Though the boys battled valiantly, it looked like they couldn’t defeat the champs. That is, until Max unleashed his powerful “Monkey Spike,” in an upset that allowed the boys to beat the best! Keeping this happy ending in mind, it’s no surprise that, in the book’s back matter, we learn from Chin that “People born in the Year of the Monkey are carefree, curious, and crafty. They are playful, nimble, and persistent. But they can be impetuous and naughty, and sometimes show off. Though they are fond of mischief, monkeys keep their eyes on the prize and are indispensable allies.”

 

The Year of the Monkey_spread4

Interior artwork from The Year of the Monkey: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin with illustrations by Kenji Ono, Immedium ©2016.

 

Children will quickly find themselves rooting for Max and Kai to defeat the Tiger and the Dragon and achieve what seemed like the unattainable. This story of perseverance and triumph is fast-paced and easy to follow. Plus for the first time, there’s text written in simplified Chinese characters making this bilingual book a great introduction for non-Chinese speakers and those already fluent who prefer a translation.The rainbow colored artwork, rendered by Dreamworks Feature Animation storyboard artist, Kenji Ono, brings the story to life as we watch Max and Kai prepare for the big contest.

I can easily see this book on school library bookshelves as its subject matter is really quite universal. The book is filled with strong action verbs, some which may be new to youngsters. These wonderful examples convey how words, complemented by fun illustrations, can add to the overall reading experience even make reading aloud for parents enjoyable and entertaining.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Get downloadable coloring pages here.
Download the app on your iPad, too!

The Year of the Sheep by Oliver Chin

The Year of the Sheep: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac
written by Oliver Chin with illustrations by Alina Chau
(Immedium, $15.95, Ages 4-8)

Year-of-the-sheep-cvr.jpgThe Year of the Sheep, book number ten in Oliver Chin’s Tales from the Chinese Zodiac series, is our recommended picture book read for the 15 day Chinese New Year festival. Combined with Chau’s stylized illustrations in a rainbow of colors, the prose in The Year of the Sheep demonstrates the personality of one particular little lamb Sydney, the story’s main character.

Prone to wandering off on her own, Sydney clearly marches to the beat of a different drummer. Not one to follow the herd led by young shepherdess Zhi and her dog Dao, Sydney lets her curiosity lead her astray and often into trouble.

When a fierce storm causes boulders to fall and block a river, the animals’ lifeblood is threatened. Sydney and Zhi wonder what can be done. “Brainstorming. Sydney started drawing her ideas. After many tries, she sketched one that they both liked.” This solution for the dried up river, should it succeed, would give Sydney a chance to show she could be part of the flock. With the cooperation of some unlikely partners, Sydney et al  enact the plan and to everyone’s delight, “The river flowed again!”

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Interior spread from The Year of the Sheep: Tales of the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin with illustrations by Alina Chau, Immedium, ©2015

 

Parents will enjoy sharing this picture book about the rewards of being a team player. The book’s back matter  lists the years from 1919 onwards that are Years of the Sheep, the next one being 2027. There is also a  handy description of the qualities individuals born in the Year of The Sheep may have. These include being “approachable, easy-going, and cooperative.”  Readers will find a scannable QR code is provided for those interested in downloading an interactive app for the book. Free coloring pages are available on Immedium’s website.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

The Year of the Horse: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin

Cover of The Year of the Horse by Oliver Chin

The Year of the Horse: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin with illustrations by Jennifer Wood, Immedium, 2014.

Ring in the 2014 Chinese New Year with Oliver Chin’s The Year of the Horse: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac (Immedium, $15.95, Ages 3-8), illustrated by Jennifer Wood and reviewed today by Ronna Mandel.

Mark your calendars L.A. readers. The illustrator, Jennifer Wood, will be at Kidspace Children’s Museum on 2/1/14 for a reading and signing of the book. She’ll be at Vromans in Pasadena on
2/8/14, at 10:30 a.m.

Did you know that the Chinese New Year is a 15 day holiday based on the movement of the moon, and is organized in cycles of 12 years?  The way the years get named comes from the Chinese zodiac which is made up of 12 animals, each with unique qualities, and each belonging to certain years. I discovered that I was born in The Year of the Dog, but that’s a whole ‘nother story! The Chinese culture believes that if your birth year falls under a particular animal, both you and that animal should share the same personality traits.

interior artwork from The Year of the Horse: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac written by Oliver Chin

Interior artwork Copyright © 2014 Jennifer Wood from The Year of the Horse: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac, written by Oliver Chin, Immedium, 2014.

In The Year of the Horse, ninth in the Tales from the Chinese Zodiac series, readers will meet Hannah, a foal and Tom, the boy who befriends her. Together the two play whenever they can and grow close as Hannah grows stronger. When Tom’s teacher Lao Shi is requested to paint something special for the Governor, she worries how the artwork will be delivered to the capital so far away.  Tom volunteers, but Lao Shi tells him, “The journey is too long and wild to walk alone … Someone must go with you.” Since the picture book is titled The Year of the Horse, it may come as no surprise then to children that Hannah is eager to be considered capable of the task and partner with Tom on the journey.

However, getting to the capital safely is not easy. Hannah’s parent advise her, “Dear, keep on the path and stay alert.” And while both Tom and Hannah are responsible, little do they know what challenges await them on their trip.  Wood, an animation designer at Nickelodeon, brings her vivid, kid-friendly style to The Year of the Horse, making every page feel like a scene from a TV show. Kids will love the look of the various animals included in the story including an ox, a dog, a sheep, a dragon, a tiger, a snake and a monkey. They’ll also get easily caught up in the adventure Chin’s created. After some very close calls, Tom and Hannah arrive at the capital and deliver to the Governor the scroll Lao Shi’s painted. Once home, the two are welcomed and cheered. Hannah’s displayed valiant spirit as has Tom. They “blazed their own trail” and succeeded. No wonder the Year of the Horse celebrates their derring-do. I loved the positive “can-do” message the book conveyed, and though our kids are not going to be sent on such a mission, they’ll enjoy the vicarious experience and understand the pride that Lao Shi and Hannah’s parents feel about the pair’s major accomplishment.

Interior artwork Copyright © 2014 Jennifer Wood from The Year of the Horse: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac, written by Oliver Chin, Immedium, 2014.

Interior artwork Copyright © 2014 Jennifer Wood from The Year of the Horse: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac, written by Oliver Chin, Immedium, 2014.

Do you share those qualities with Tom and Hannah or know someone who does? According to the back matter in the book, “People born in the Year of the Horse are energetic and animated. They are proud and love attention … ”

 

Get the app for your iPad from iTunes, too!

The Race for the Chinese Zodiac by Gabrielle Wang

The Race for the Chinese Zodiac by Gabrielle Wang with illustrations by Sally Rippin

The Race for the Chinese Zodiac by Gabrielle Wang with illustrations by Sally Rippin,
Candlewick Press, 2013.

MaryAnne Locher reviews a picture book perfect for introducing children to the upcoming Chinese New Year.

When there are only 12 positions in the Chinese zodiac, and 13 animals trying to win the honor of filling them, things can get pretty exciting as true personalities emerge.

Did you ever wonder how the ancient Chinese chose the animals that we know today to represent the zodiac? Gabrielle Wang tells us in her book, The Race for the Chinese Zodiac (Candlewick Press, $14.99, Ages 5-9), illustrated by Sally Rippin.

The Jade Emperor announced that there would be a race. Tiger, Rabbit, Rat, Cat, Ox, Dog, Rooster, Monkey, Goat, Snake, Horse, Dragon, and Pig all decide to compete, but one of them will not make it across the river in time and will not have a year named after them.

artwork by Sally Rippin from The Race for the Chinese Zodiac

Interior illustration by Sally Rippin from Gabrielle Wang’s The Race for the Chinese Zodiac, Candlewick Press, 2013.

Sally Rippin’s beautiful illustrations, done in Chinese ink, linocuts, and digital media, have the reader racing alongside Tiger who courageously leaps into the river, peaceful Rabbit, who floats across on a log, and kindly Ox, who agrees to carry Cat and Rat on his back. We see Dog so busy playing in the water, we worry our faithful pup might not make it across the river to finish the race. Rooster luckily finds a raft and teams up with clever Monkey who gets them out of the reeds, and Goat who sends them off to sail. Snake wisely hides in Horse’s mane, catching a ride from his spirited friend across the beautiful swirling green water. Pig’s pink belly gets the best of her and she decides to eat until she blows up like a balloon. Fat and happy, she falls asleep, only to wake during the final moments of the race. Dragon’s kindness toward others slows him down, but that doesn’t keep him from the finish.

Who will make it to the other side of the river? Who will the Emperor place in the zodiac? The young reader will find out this and more. There is a calendar in the back of the book to help us find which animal corresponds with our year of birth too. I’m a pig, but it’s not as bad as it sounds!

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