An awkward narrative frame complicates Orgel's (My Mother's Daughter ) retelling of a well-known Chinese folktale explaining the naming of the Chinese zodiac, and not even So's (Pale Male ) buoyant, abundantly patterned watercolors compensate for the structural flaws. Willow's grandmother, known as Nai Nai, is babysitting and beginning to read a version of the titular story when the narrator--the cat Mao--objects with a sharp scratch to Nai Nai. Banished, with Willow following him in solidarity against Nai Nai, Mao purrs--"Purring makes magic happen. I turn into that cat from long ago, and tell my story." With this, the cat relates his part in the famous river race between 13 of the Jade Emperor's favorite animals (he ends up stranded). The artist clearly delineates the two strands, adopting loose lines and floating vignettes on white space for the contemporary narrative and shifting to a highly stylized, decorative approach for the fable. Orgel implies a parallel: the cat and Willow are stranded by their impulsive choices and rescued by generous elders, but she joins the two story lines so oddly that the connection may elude the audience. Ages 5-8. (Sept.)[Page 45]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Gr 1-3-- Willow's grandmother tells the story of the 12 animals for whom the years in the Chinese calendar are named, unfortunately omitting Cat's role. When the child's cat, Mao, scratches Nai Nai and she pushes the animal off her lap, Willow and Mao become angry and head upstairs. Mao becomes Cat and tells how the Jade Emperor once invited 13 animals to a race. Dragon flies with Rabbit and Rooster on his back. Rat and his friend Cat sit on Ox as he and the other animals plunge into the river. Rat pushes Cat, who never learned to swim, into the water. By clawing his way onto a jutting rock, Cat watches as Rat jumps ashore ahead of Ox and wins. After Mao explains why the Year of the Rat comes first and why Cat and Rat are enemies, the little girl and her Nai Nai make up their disagreement. So's bright watercolor paintings bring the human characters to life against a pure white background, while traditional Chinese motifs and a subdued palette set the animals in the race apart. More pages are given to Willow, Mao, and Nai Nai than to the actual Chinese legend, and this tale-within-a-tale framework may be confusing to young readers. A simpler retelling is Dawn Casey's The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac (Barefoot, 2006). Nevertheless, youngsters will enjoy listening to this story and seeing the beautiful watercolor illustrations.--Mary Jean Smith, Southside Elementary School, Lebanon, TN[Page 118]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.