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 … ”


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Welcoming in the Chinese New Year Part II

After reading Crouching Tiger written by Ying Chang Compestine with gorgeous gouaches by Yan Nascimbene ($16.99, Candlewick, ages 6-10) I can truly appreciate the beauty and spectacle that is the Chinese New Year. According to the author’s note in the book’s end pages, the Chinese New Year usually falls sometime between January and February, lasts for 15 days and is based on the lunar calendar like the Jewish holidays.

A book that brings generations together, Crouching Tiger  focuses on the relationship between a young Chinese-American boy and his grandfather visiting from China. Vinson (aka Ming Da) is curious about his grandfather’s daily practice of tai chi, an ancient martial art that the author tells us is more about inner-body strength rather than something like kung fu which is more about fighting and self defense. Unable to get the knack of the discipline involved in learning tai chi, Vinson grew bored with his grandfather and “As the week passed, I felt cheated. Maybe Grandpa didn’t know real kung fu.” He even began feeling slightly embarrassed in his grandfather’s presence.

However it’s not long before there’s a shift in his attitude due to an unexpected incident that has got Vinson eager to revisit tai chi with the help of his grandpa. At the New Year parade in Chinatown Vinson experiences all the joy and excitement the celebration brings as he is honored with the role of cabbage boy in the Lion dancers’ performance. Instead of avoiding tai chi, Vinson now embraces it due to his grandfather’s patience and wisdom. “I promise I will practice harder,” Vinson says to his grandfather as they head for home when the parade has ended. You can be certain he will!

This Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review book is ideal to read with the approaching Chinese New Year, but it also shows children that while they may know a lot about electronics, there is still a lot their elders can teach them that is both interesting and enjoyable.

CROUCHING TIGER. Text copyright © 2011 by Ying Chang Compestine. Illustrations copyright © 2011 by Yan Nascimbene. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Welcoming in the Chinese New Year

The Year of the Dragon, Chinese New Year, begins January 23, 2012

Ronna Mandel has chosen two books to review this week to help you kick off the Chinese New Year; the first is the winner of a New York Times BEST ILLUSTRATED CHILDREN’S BOOK AWARD and the second is a Publishers Weekly STARRED REVIEW.

I just loved the simple yet moving story of  A New Year’s Reunion written by Yu Li-Qiong with its dynamic and joyous illustrations by Zhu Cheng-Liang ($15.99, Candlewick Press, ages 3-5). Perhaps as early as preschool, I used to enjoy learning about holidays and celebrations around the world. Whether hearing stories about Children’s Day in Japan or Guy Fawkes Day in England, I would sit back, close my eyes and transport myself to the destination and imagine myself participating in the festivities.

A New Year’s Reunion manages to recreate the anticipation and excitement of the Chinese New Year for young readers as well as convey the beautiful story of a Maomao, a little girl in China, being reunited with her beloved father who works in faraway destinations building houses. Each year at the Chinese New Year Maomao’s Papa returns home for several days and together the daddy and daughter delight in all the little pleasures a parent can share with their child.  While Maomao was indeed sad to see her Papa have to pack up and once again travel hundreds of miles from home for his job, the fact that the two, together with Maomao’s loving mother, had spent such quality, love-filled time together was certainly what helped the family endure such a difficult separation.

Whether their parents travel on business for long or short periods of time, children will relate to the universal emotions so touchingly portrayed in this delightful book.



A NEW YEAR’S REUNION. Text copyright © 2007 by Yu Li-Qiong. Illustrations copyright © 2007 by Zhu Cheng-Liang.Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.


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