No Year of the Cat review - January SLJ
School Library Journal (Jan 2013)
K-Gr 4–The story of the Chinese zodiac is a popular folktale of friendship and betrayal, retold again and again in picture-book format. Since no one in the kingdom remembers when important events have occurred, the emperor decides to create a 12-year calendar. The first 12 animals to win the race across the kingdom’s rushing river will provide the nomenclature. Wong’s creative use of the landscape highlights the dynastic setting while borders around the text showcase the white-water race, emphasizing the cyclical nature of the calendar. The watercolor illustrations’ overall deftness, panoramic views, and traditional sensibility will please children. The dynamic, humorous storytelling spotlights the role of the advisors. Readers get a strong sense of the Han emperor’s daily routine, palace, and costume–as well as of his mirthful personality. Various traits also shine forth from the animals–the magnanimity of Ox, the honesty of Pig, and, of course, the treachery of Rat. A beautiful visual touch at the race’s finale is the elated emperor holding an outstretched scroll with the names of the 12 victorious animals in both English and Chinese characters, animals huddled around. Don’t miss the wonderful ideas in the online teaching guide either. That said, Ed Young’s calligraphy-inspired, more abstractly illustrated version of the folktale, Cat and Rat (Square Fish, 1998), has superior back matter, including a timetable to determine in which animal year readers were born. This version, along with Young’s classic, would make a thought-provoking, contrastive pairing.
—Sara Lissa Paulson, The American Sign Language and English Lower School, New York City