School Library Journal
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K-Gr 4-The Jade Emperor is concerned because his country does not have a calendar, and no one can tell one year from the next. He decides to hold a race across a great river, and the order in which the animals finish will determine the order of the years. The event is exciting as the creatures maneuver for position, only to be bested in the end by the clever Rat. In this retelling of the ancient legend, Casey maintains the pace well. Back matter includes information about the Chinese calendar in general, as well as the more specific Dragon Boat Festival and Moon Festival. The book is a visual treat, with illustrations in simple collage designs on acrylic and painted backgrounds placed in such a way as to keep the eye engaged and moving. The palette is a pleasing mix of intense and muted tones. An attractive addition for most collections.-Grace Oliff, Ann Blanche Smith School, Hillsdale, NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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Prepared in collaged papers with acrylic and printed backgrounds, Wilson's (Storytime: First Tales for Sharing) creatively stylized folk art gives this retelling of an ancient legend a distinctive look. The meandering narrative opens as the Jade Emperor, the King of Heaven, announces he will start a calendar and name each year after a different animal. To determine the order of the animal years, he invites all creatures to participate in a race across a wide river: the calendar's first year will be named after the winner. Intimidated by the "strong and swift" river, Rat and Cat climb onto the back of the strong Ox; other animals mount a "wobbling" raft or brave the water on their own. Clever if shifty Rat pushes the napping Cat into the water (explaining why they are "to this very day,... the worst of enemies"), jumps off Ox's back when they reach land and dashes to the finish line first. Though Jade Emperor congratulates all the animals for using their "own special skills" to cross the river, the text doesn't effectively demonstrate what these talents are. Youngsters will likely most enjoy the final spread, which lists the years that fall under each respective animal, and the characteristics of people born under that sign. There are some snippets of humor here (crossing the finish line last, Pig explains, "I needed to stop for a snack"), but what stands out is Wilson's spirited mixed-media artwork. Ages 4-8. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved