December 2013 | Barbara Basbanes Richter

The Race for the Chinese Zodiac

"The Race for the Chinese Zodiac," by Gabrielle Wang, illustrated by Sally Rippin; Candlewick Press, $14.99, 32 pages, ages 5-7.

 Chinese Zodiac_Horse.jpg

THE RACE FOR THE CHINESE ZODIAC. Text copyright © 2010 by Gabrielle Wang. Illustrations copyright © 2010 by Sally Rippin. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books Australia and Black Dog Books.

In Gabrielle Wang's retelling of this classic Chinese creation story, the Jade Emperor announces a race to determine which twelve animals will have a year named after them in the zodiac. As the gong sounds, the animals plunge into a mighty river and make their way to the finish line.  Who will be first? Who stops at nothing to win?  Children and adults will find this a pleasure to read, and its quick pace mimics the feel of competitors vying for the top spot. Sally Rippin renders Charming Rat, Spirited Horse and all the other animals in Chinese ink and earth-toned linocuts. 

After reading the end notes to find out which Zodiac year is yours, try this fun post-reading activity: Enlarge the Chinese characters for each animal that are found throughout the book. Give children a big brush and let them trace the characters with bold brushstrokes.  

?????(Wishing you luck in the Year of the Horse!)

"Again!" by Emily Gravett; Simon & Schuster, $17.99, 32 pages, ages 4-6.


Again! image reproduced with permission from the publisher, Simon & Schuster.

Here we have a great example of why physical children's books still have an edge over their digital counterparts. In this story, Cedric the dragon prepares for bedtime, which also means mama dragon will read his favorite bedtime story.  As the title aptly suggests, the evening tale is read over and over, even as his very patient and accommodating mother starts to doze off. As a result, Cedric transforms from an almost angelic looking creature into a fire-breathing fiend. Dragons aren't known for their patience, and Cedric demonstrates his lack of this particular quality with an ending that is sure to enthrall young children. (Without giving it away, this is where the paper copy triumphs over the e-version.) Fans of Emily Gravett's award-winning illustrations will be happy to see that she has stayed true to her style - simple, engaging drawings that pop off white backgrounds. Readers will recognize Gravett's work from her other award winning titles such as Wolves and The Odd Egg.