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!’
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.
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.”
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.”
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
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