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*The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac* by Dawn Casey, illustrated by Anne Wilson
The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac
by Dawn Casey, illustrated by Anne Wilson
Grades K-4 32 pages Barefoot Books August 2006 Hardcover    

Author and teacher Dawn Casey breathes life into a Chinese legend in The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac, one of several ancient narratives depicting the origin of the Chinese calendar. The Jade Emperor decides to host a swimming race to create his own system for measuring time. He calls upon thirteen lively animals to swim across a raging river. He will assign a year on his calendar to each of the animals in the order they win the race.

Each animal uses its unique strengths to make its way across the river. Rat and Cat take center stage in the story as best friends. Discouraged by their diminutive size, Rat secures their passage across the river upon the back of the strong ox. As Ox nears the shore, Rat realizes that the cat, who has been napping the entire way, will use his reserve of energy to sprint past him and win the race. After quick consideration, he uses his wit to concoct a plan to keep Cat from winning. One by one, the animals complete the challenge and are assigned a year. The legend is twofold in that it also explains the feud between Cat and Rat that continues to this day.

Casey follows up the story with an explanation of the Chinese calendar and several important cultural celebrations: the Chinese New Year, the Dragon Boat festival, and the Moon festival. Her career as a teacher shines through in these informative lessons on Chinese folklore. The book features a chart that lists each animal with its corresponding years, along with a short description of the personality traits of those born under each sign and which other signs they interact well with. The reader can look up the sign of their own birth year and discover their own ruling animal.

The Great Race, Caseyís first project for Barefoot Books, is intended for readers aged four to ten. Children as well as adults will enjoy discovering which animal they relate to. Anne Wilsonís whimsical, colorful illustrations will delight young readers. The Great Race is Wilsonís second project with the publisher. Wilsonís first illustrated book for Barefoot Books, Storytime: First Tales for Sharing by Stella Blackstone, features more of her charming artwork.

The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac flows in an open-ended prose that encourages the child to interact with the story and actively engages the reader, as only a teacher could write. Clear out a spot on the bookshelf: it is the sort of treasure that children will want to revisit again and again.

The publisherís website,, offers instructions for a Chinese New Year craft to create as an enhancement to the story. Barefoot Books seeks to publish childrenís books that are educational and expose readers to new cultures, and they have taken multiple precautions to ensure their printing methods cause minimal environmental impact. Founded by two moms, Barefoot has successfully avoided large chain retailers and created a network of enthusiastic distributors that includes home-based businesses.

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  Sabrina Williams/2007 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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