A perennially popular pourquoi story gets a fresh, if not entirely necessary, update.
Over the last two decades, many explanations of the Chinese calendar have been published. Bare-bones retellings contrast with others that offer embellishments like a framing story or list of the zodiac signs and their attributes. All, of course, wind up with the same 12 years. Despite the stiff competition, Wade manages to create an engaging narrative, one that feels traditional yet offers unique details. Her Jade Emperor wants to name the years so he can celebrate and remember the birth of his son. He has three amusing advisors who repeat his every utterance and who scurry to arrange the race of the animals. While the outcome is never in question, the perils of the race are clearly conveyed, along with the pride of those who triumph and the cat’s (eternal) frustration at being tricked by the wily rat. Wong’s watercolor illustrations offer lovely vistas and appealing portraits. The framing pictures that surround each animal’s narrative are particularly effective, illuminating aspects of their journeys and evoking the movement of the waves. Both pictures and text offer enough variety to overcome the potential dullness of the repetitive aspects of the tale.
Whether familiar with the tale or not, young readers and folklore students alike will enjoy this latest (but likely not last) retelling. (Picture book/folk tale. 5-8)