Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This vibrantly illustrated though rather dull account tells how it came to be that in China years are designated by animals. "Buddha decided to give every year a name so it would be easy to tell one year from another," but before he can arrive at suitable names, he falls ill and invites the animals of China to keep him company. As three apsaras ("flying women with magical powers") summon 13 creatures, Whitfield presents a fairly tedious rundown of the habitat, habits and personalities of each. And, of course, Cat, whom Rat fails to waken, never makes it to Buddha and therefore has no year in his name (hence their age-old antagonism). Decidedly more animated than the text are Browne's (A Gaggle of Geese) bold watercolors, an inventive hybrid of old Chinese silk paintings and woodcuts. Although the loud reds and golds that dominate the artist's stylized images may, in several renderings of Tiger and Dragon, be frightening to those on the younger edge of the targeted audience, the garnet red, emerald green and sapphire blue combined with foreshortened perspectives create a sense of movement in the pictures. Brief descriptions of traits found under each animal's zodiacal sign round out the volume. Ages 4-10. (Jan.)
Children's Literature - Susan Hepler
Buddha, troubled over what to name the years, summons the animals to him. Thirteen are called but Rat tricks Cat by forgetting to wake him, so when Rat, Water Buffalo, Tiger, Hare and eight others arrive, Buddha names each year after one of the animals to create a twelve-year cycle. In a note, Browne explains her use of heavy black line and brighter color to mimic Chinese woodcut techniques, but the static and often over-busy illustrations make it difficult to discern characters or details. An interesting afterword explains how the Chinese yearly cycles work and the supposed characteristics of a person born under each sign. With a plot that is essentially a journey of twelve, not much in the way of character can be developed. In areas where China is studied, however, this is a good additional purchase to explain not only how the years are named, but also why cat and rat are not friends.
School Library Journal - School Library Journal
K-Gr 3Early Chinese astronomers devised a zodiac based on a repeating 12-year cycle, with each year in the cycle named for an animal. Variant stories explain why the cycle starts with the year of the Rat, continues through ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, and the rest, and ends with the year of the Pig. Usually, a deity sets up a contest to decide which animals, and in what order, will represent each year. Here, it is an unwell Buddha. Confined to his bed, he sends flying female messengers to invite animals from various regions to visit him. Their order of arrival will determine the order of years. Brightly colored watercolor illustrations inspired by frescoes on the caves of Dunhuang and by the vibrant lines of Chinese woodcuts show animals from varied ecosystems answering the call. Only the cat remains at home by the fire. This story represents Chinese tradition more accurately than David Bouchard's The Great Race (Millbrook 1997), and offers a better story and more compelling art than Clara Yen's Why Rat Comes First (Children's Book Pr., 1991) or Monica Chang's Story of the Chinese Zodiac (Pan Asian Publications, 1994). Libraries owning Ed Young's darkly elegant Cat and Rat (Holt, 1995) should consider this new and very different version as an alternate and interesting comparison to the earlier book. Whitfield provides an informative source note and a chart of the animal signs and their characteristics. An illustrator's note, documenting the inspiration for the art, is also appended.Margaret A. Chang, North Adams State College, MA