Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The cat's tale: why the years are named for animals

Orgel, Doris. The cat's tale: why the years are named for animals, New York: Roaring Brook, 2008.

This is a well-know Chinese folktale explaining the naming of the Chinese zodiac. When Willow’s grandma is reading a titular story, the child’s cat, Mao, scratches her granddaughter, Nai Nai, so Nai Nai pushes the cat away from her lap. Mao gets angry and tells her own story. Mao narrates the story of how the Emperor Jade once invited his 13 favorite animals including the Ox, Rat, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig and Cat to a river race. Because some of the animals cannot swim, the emperor arranges that Rabbit and Rooster ride on Dragon’s back, Rat and his friend Cat sit on Ox’s back, and the rest of other animals plunge into the river. The cunning rat betrays the Cat by pushing him into the river. By clawing his way onto a rock in the river, Cat watches how Rat leaps ashore ahead of Ox and comes first to win. Jade Emperor is very happy, and decides to name the first year of the cycle the Year of Rat with every successive year named for the animals that completed the race, except Cat who has not finished. So the Cat and Rat became enemies from that time on. This is a beautiful picture book for children with bright watercolour painting illustrations.

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