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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.
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!