In the story of a "Tortoise and the Hare"–like race by way of the Chinese zodiac, a friendship between a cunning mouse and a snack-obsessed kitten is tested.
Shu the mouse and Mimi the kitten are invited by Jade Emperor to a palace race promising "Cupcakes! PRIZES! Did I mention cupcakes?!" While Shu, a crafty, industrious planner, strategizes, Mimi daydreams of sweets. Soon, they're outwitting and outracing Dragon, Rabbit, Ox, and other fierce competitors. It only takes a moment of bad judgment, however, for Mimi to lose sight of her friendship with Shu and to not only lose the race, but her spot on the zodiac. Why do you think there's no Year of the Cat? Apart from its pourquoi-tale aspect, the book presents an opportunity for young readers to learn about the rewards of hard work as well as the merits of forgiveness as thoughtful Shu saves the last cupcake for his wayward kitten friend. Illustrations throughout are action-packed, with big, bright, expressive faces of animals in motion. The closing endpapers present all 12 Chinese zodiac animals, years (not the lunar ones, though), and personality traits ("Horse: You are outgoing and funny! Make sure to finish what you start! 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026").
If the story is not dazzlingly original, it's at least an entry point to learn about one of the ways animals are anthropomorphized in the histories of different cultures. (Picture book. 3-7)