Other children's books have told this tale, but Wang and Rippin's version is especially attractive and conveys the look of ancient China…Rippin paints with traditional Chinese ink on watercolor paper and created linocut "chops"or stampsshowing the Chinese characters for each creature. Ochre backgrounds give the pages an aged look, but there's something unmistakably modern and accessible about the alternately kind, curious and cunning expressions on the animals' faces.
The New York Times - Sarah Harrison Smith
In a story first published in Australia, Wang retells a folktale that explains both the origin of the Chinese zodiac and the historical enmity between cats and rats. The Jade Emperor, a figure from Chinese myth, promises to name a year after each of the first 12 animals to cross the river. Rat and Cat, intimate friends, conspire to ride across on the head of the Ox. “ ‘We’re winning!’ cried Rat. When Cat stood up to look, Rat pushed her into the water.” Rat’s deed means Cat falls behind and doesn’t get a year named after her; after that, “to this very day, cats have hated rats.” Rippin’s traditional ink painting acknowledges the story’s Asian origins. Graceful black lines are brushed on backgrounds in warm shades of tortoiseshell, burgundy, smoke gray, and glass-bottle green. The action, shown in close-up portraits of the individual animals, is easy to decipher, while the story is lucidly and simply told. The Chinese zodiac determines personality based on the year, rather than the month, of one’s birth; an afterword gives the characteristics traditionally associated with each year. Ages 5–9. (Nov.)
Other children’s books have told this tale, but Wang and Rippin’s version is especially attractive and conveys the look of ancient China. ... Rippin paints with traditional Chinese ink on watercolor paper and created linocut "chops" — or stamps — showing the Chinese characters for each creature. Ochre backgrounds give the pages an aged look, but there’s something unmistakably modern and accessible about the alternately kind, curious and cunning expressions on the animals’ faces.
—The New York Times Online
In this retelling of the Chinese legend of the Zodiac, the Jade Emperor in ancient China sets up an animal race. The first twelve to cross the river will each have a year named after them. Courageous Tiger and Peaceful Rabbit take off. Charming Rat and Friendly Cat persuade Kind Ox to take them across on his back. While Faithful Dog plays, Lucky Rooster, with the help of Clever Monkey and Gentle Goat, sets off on a raft. As Spirited Horse plunges into the river, Wise Snake hides in his mane. Happy Pig just eats and falls asleep. Powerful Dragon flies across the river. As they near the finish, Rat pushes Cat off into the river. One by one the Jade Emperor assigns years to the arriving animals. Dog and Pig finally get there. Poor Cat is too late. The tale is visualized in action scenes of similar colors but differing sizes, from small to double pages, loosely created with Chinese ink, linoleum cuts, and digital media. The Chinese characters for each animal are affixed like stamps on their pages. A complete list of the animals, their characters, their years, and a brief description of your character if you are born in that year is included. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
K-Gr 2—When the Jade Emperor summons the animals to a mighty race, Courageous Tiger, Peaceful Rabbit, and 11 other animals set out, eager to win a place in the Zodiac calendar. Charming Rat climbs aboard Kind Ox's broad back with his friend, Friendly Cat. Midway across the river, though, Rat pushes Cat overboard and wins first place. Powerful Dragon proves to be kindhearted, pausing to make drought-ending rain and blow Rabbit ashore. Lucky Rooster, Clever Monkey, and Gentle Goat find a raft and help one another across. Happy Pig eats 'til her tummy is as big as a balloon, falls asleep, and floats across the river and receives the last place in the Zodiac. Poor Cat drags herself ashore and loses out, which is why cats still hate rats. The illustrations, created using Chinese ink, linocuts, and digital media, are in warm, earthy shades of brown, gray, and green with emphatic black lines. End material offers more description of the Chinese Zodiac. This high-spirited version of the story, with its large font and lively pace, will delight a large audience of young readers.—Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA
The oft-retold story of how the Chinese astrological symbols came to occupy their places. The Jade Emperor majestically rings his gong, and the race begins. Twelve animals will be honored. In this Australian import, each animal receives a brief description of its significant character traits, which have as much to do with success as speed. Powerful Dragon, though he stops along the way to help "people and animals suffering from a terrible drought," slowing him down, is awarded the fifth year. The cooperative natures of Gentle Goat, Clever Monkey and Lucky Rooster, the playful nature of Faithful Dog and the lazy disposition of Happy Pig are evidenced in the terse but descriptive text. Ironically, while Charming Rat and Friendly Cat (previously pals) ride on Kind Ox, the not-really-so-charming rodent pushes the innocent feline off Ox into the river and out of the zodiac forever, thus setting cats against rats for all time. It's nothing very original, but illustrations incorporating Chinese ink, linocuts and digital media in browns, oranges and greens are handsome, and each animal is named in maroon rectangles inscribed in white, looking as if they were produced with Chinese seals. There is no background information, but readers born from 1924 to 2043 can consult the list at the end and discover their zodiacal characters. While not an essential purchase, this could easily join the ever-growing flock of attractive picture books about the Chinese zodiac . (Picture book/folk tale. 5-8)