In this retelling of Chinese lunar calendar lore, the animals race to claim a spot in the zodiac.
To better measure time, the Jade Emperor announces a race in which the first 12 animals to finish “will each have a year named after them.” Antics ensue as the animals use their wits, kindness, and determination to compete. The illustrations, done in acrylic or gouache with solid strokes of color and layered patterns, are attractive, and there is a sophistication to how the primary palette colors are combined. But while the story is culturally Chinese, the artwork seems chiefly inspired by Oaxacan folk art. Some Asian influences can be seen—the compositions reference 16th-century illustrated manuscripts from the Indian Mughal period, and the flat rendering of perspective recalls Persian miniature painting. Despite the fact that these share Asian roots, there seems to be little in Chinese style or reference in the art. Whether that is needed for a Chinese folk story with folk art is debatable. However, the text at times is a bit rote and lacks the luster a strong emphasis on each animal’s traditional zodiac personality traits could have given.
Ultimately, Corr delivers a handsomely packaged story that begs the questions, from where did it arise, and whom is it for? (Picture book. 3-6)