The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac

The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac
Christopher Corr
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

I was wowed by Christopher Corr’s Deep in the Woods and now he’s turned his amazing artistry to another folktale, the Chinese story of how the years were named.
It’s a fuller version than any I’ve seen and used in schools over the years and is in my view set to become the ‘go to’ book for celebrating Chinese New Year from now on. (16th February this year).
For those who don’t know the folktale it’s set in an ancient China when there was no way of knowing how much time had passed and consequently the Jade Emperor having no idea how old he was, decided it was about time he knew.
He called together all the animals of his kingdom and announced that on the next day a Great Race was to be held and the first twelve creatures to cross the river would each have a year named after them. Needless to say, all the animals were eager to win.
Two in particular were good friends and planned to become joint winners so long as the rat could wake his cat friend from sleep, that is.
Next day however, the rat did his utmost to rouse his slumbering pal but was forced to leave him to dream and head towards the river.
En route he met an ox and they team up – the rat as passenger and thankful singer on the ox’s back. The double-dealing rat though, jumped forwards at the last stroke to land first at the emperor’s feet and thus claim the first year, which henceforth became The Year of the Rat, with Ox giving his name to the second year.
Tiger …

and Rabbit claim the next two years and then in fifth place, comes a dazzling dragon with a tale to tell of how he assisted the rabbit on his journey.
Horse arrives to claim the next place and he too has a passenger – wily snake who sneakily claims sixth position instead.
In contrast, goat, monkey and rooster employ teamwork …

and the Emperor rewards them by assigning the next three years to Goat, Monkey and Rooster respectively.
Both dog and pig …

have  wasted time during the swim and thus are allocated the eleventh and twelfth years. Then it’s time to celebrate.
Suddenly though, a small cat makes his presence felt in no uncertain terms as he emerges from the water and proceeds to shout in fury at Rat for failing to wake him, causing the little creature to flee for his life, then and for ever on …
This finale adds a pourquoi element to the whole tale.
Everything, from the tactile cover is splendid. Steeped in folk art tradition, Corr’s beautifully patterned illustrations are truly captivating and offer a powerful stimulus for children’s own artistic creations.
His telling too is terrific, focusing on the animal characters themselves – some sneaky, some helpful and others co-operative.
Fab-ul-ous!

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