The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac (Multicultural Children’s Book Day)

The Great Race, Story Chinese ZodiacTitle: The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac

Author: Dawn Casey
Illustrator: Anne Wilson
Publisher: Barefoot Books, 2006
Book Type: Fiction
Ages: 5-8
Themes: Folktale, Chinese Culture

Opening Lines:
“Many moons ago, the people of China had no calendar. With no way to measure time, nobody could tell one year from the next.

Synopsis (from Barefoot Books website):

Race with the animals of the Zodiac as they compete to have the years of the Chinese calendar named after them. The excitement-filled story is followed by notes on the Chinese calendar, important Chinese holidays, and a chart outlining the animal signs based on birth years.


There are tons of Chinese Zodiac and New Year’s activities on the Internet. Below is just a sampling.

Snake Mobile Craft
Chinese New Year’s Activities for Kids – Pinterest Board
Chinese New Year Lesson Plans, Printables, and Crafts
More Chinese New Year Printables – puzzles, word searches, coloring sheets.

Why I Like This Book:

A simple, colorful re-telling of the origin of the Chinese zodiac and why cats hate rats.

The Jade Emperor decided to name each of the 12 years after an animal. To decide the order he announced The Great Race, the order in which the animals finished would determine the order of the calendar. Cat and Rat were best friends and also the smallest animals in the race. Clever Rat got them a ride on Ox. However, over-ambitious Rat pushed his friend Cat in the water and later ran-ahead of Ox to win. Cat never gets over the betrayal and this is why cats hate rats.

The text and artwork do a great job of engaging young readers. The artwork is done with paper collages and acrylics which works well in keeping the artwork simple, colorful, and childlike. The back matter contains information on Chinese festivals and more characteristics about the twelve animals and the people born in those years.


(Click to see a larger picture)

As a picture book writer, I know every word has to be carefully chosen to convey the right meaning and tone. For this reason I was somewhat bothered by the line below, which follows the scenes of Rat consciously pushing his friend cat into the water and running ahead of Ox to win the race.

“Rat may be small but he is also smart!” the Jade Emperor laughed.

I do realize the author can’t deviate from the original story, however it’s the subtext (probably unintentional) that it was okay for the rat to be mean and sneaky that bothered me. Maybe if the cat gave chase to the rat at the end I would have felt a little better.

Regardless of my pet peeve I do think this is a lovely book and is still good for introducing kids to the Chinese zodiac. Perfect timing with the Chinese New Year coming up.

This is review is a part of Perfect Picture Book Friday (PPBF) and Multicultural Children’s Book Day! To see additional PPBF recommended books please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book.


I am very excited  to be a book reviewer participating in Multicultural Children’s Book Day: Celebrating Diversity in Children’s Literature on January 27th, 2014Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom and Valarie Budayr from Jump into a Book have organized this event to raise awareness for children’s books that celebrate diversity and to get those books into more classrooms and libraries so more little eyes can see them. Proudly sponsored by Lee & Low Books, Wisdom Tales Press, Chronicle Books, and author Susan Fayad.

Why is Multicultural Children’s Book Day so important?

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Mia and Valarie are on a mission to change all of that. Their mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries. Another goal of this exciting event is create a compilation of books and favorite reads that will provide not only a new reading list for the winter, but also a way to expose brilliant books to families, teachers, and libraries.

More than 60 bloggers are joining together to share books and ideas to celebrate Multicultural Children’s Book Day.  Please join us on January 27, 2014 for book reviews and multicultural activities.

Visit our collaborative Pinterest board, Multicultural Books for Kids, to see more great books and check out all of these amazing blogs participating in the event!

2GirlsLostInaBook · 365 Days of Motherhood · A Bilingual Baby · A Simple Life, Really? · Africa to America · After School Smarty Pants · All Done Monkey · Andi’s Kids Books · Anita Brown Bag  · Austin Gilkeson · Barbara Ann Mojica ·  Books My Kids Read · Bottom Shelf Books · Cats Eat Dogs · Chasing The Donkey · Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac · Children’s Books Heal · Church o Books · CitizenBeta · Crafty Moms Share · Discovering The World Through My Son’s Eyes · Early Words · Flowering Minds · Franticmommy · Gathering Books · GEO Librarian · Gladys Barbieri · Going in Circles · Growing Book by Book · iGame Mom · I’m Not The Nanny · InCulture Parent · Itsy Bitsy Mom ·Just Children’s Books– Kid World Citizen · Kristi’s Book Nook · Mama Lady Books · Mama Smiles · Mission Read · Mother Daughter Book Reviews · Mrs AOk · MrsTeeLoveLifeLaughter · Ms. Yingling Reads · Multicultural Kids Blog · One Sweet World · Open Wide The World · P is for Preschooler · Rapenzel Dreams · School4Boys · Sharon the Librarian · Spanish Playground · Sprout’s Bookshelf · Squishable Baby · Stanley and Katrina · Teach Mama · The Art of Home Education · The Brain Lair · The Educators’ Spin On It · The Family-Ship Experience · The Yellow Door Paperie · This Kid Reviews Books  · Trishap’s Books · Unconventional Librarian · Vicki Arnold · We3Three · World for Learning · Wrapped in Foil 

Disclosure: I received my copy of this book from the publisher Barefoot Books. This review nevertheless reflects my own and honest opinion about the book.

39 Responses to “The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac (Multicultural Children’s Book Day)”

  1. This story sounds like a fun way for kids to become more familiar with the Chinese Zodiac! And I just love the illustrations!

    • Hi Emma thanks for stopping by. The illustrations are my favorite in this book. You can always tell when you have a Barefoot Book, the artwork across their books has the same look and feel.

  2. What a great lesson for kids. I’ve actually had a race just like that where I was told to stick together even though I was expected to be the fast one, I agreed then the friend ran off on the hills I struggled with. I kept catching up then slowing down for her and she did it again so I totally aced my finish and beat her 😉

  3. The illustrations are so vibrant and colorful! kids are going to love looking at it. I will add this to our list of read alouds at school. Thanks for the recommendation and an interesting review.
    -Reshama @ Stackimgbooks

  4. I see what you mean about the rat. but i still love the descriptions.

  5. Kids will really enjoy this book, looking up facts about what year they were born and pouring over the gorgeous illustrations. You should have shared it on PPBF too. I’m participating in the event on Monday. I reviewed a multicultural book this morning and will review a MG on Monday. I look forward to seeing all of the entries and activities. Great choice! (I’m a rabbit.)

  6. I love how this picture book explains the Chinese zodiac and makes each animal special. That’s a good thing since my kids fight over which animal is better — they are horse, rabbit and monkey. Thank you SO very much for joining us for Multicultural Children’s Book Day!! We are thrilled to have you!

  7. I love the story of the Chinese Zodiac! Great point about Rat and Cat. I thought the story, though, was that Buddha called all of the animals to him and the only animals to show up were Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Dog, Rat, Ox, Rabbit, Tiger, Rooster, and Pig, so they became the Zodiac animals.
    I am a snake. Apparently, I am wise – or a wise-guy 😉 ! 😉

    • That is one version of the story. Apparently there are several versions of how the Chinese zodiac came to be. After reading this book, I had a multitude of questions and looked it up on Wikipedia as a starting point. For instance how is that the dragon didn’t come in first especially since he can fly. One story says he stopped to make rain to help the people and creatures of the earth.

  8. I love that you and Erik are posting on a similar theme. This always seems to happen with PPBF. Great minds think alike.

  9. We read this book last year for Chinese New Year and enjoyed it. I seem to recall that Cat fell asleep while riding on Ox, and from what I know of Asian culture, his indifference was punished justly by someone who would use any means by wanting to win.

    • In this story the cat falls asleep, and rat is worried that because Cat is resting he will have more energy to win the race when they reach land. So to prevent that from happening he pushes Cat into the water.

  10. I love what you shared about the cat and the rat. I can’t imagine that going over well with Katrina and can see why that would cause cats and rats to not get along. I guess if you look at it that way, it makes sense. I like how the illustrations look like paper cutouts. Thank you for sharing! Have a super weekend!
    ~Christine M. (A Pig)
    for the Stanley & Katrina Gang

  11. Hi Darshana,
    This book is a favorite at my house. Great review and wonderful activities to go along with. Thanks for celebrating Multicultural Children’s Book Day with us. Happy Reading. Valarie

  12. I’m a dragon. Fabulous choice for Multicultural Children’s Book Day.

  13. This story sounds great. This year we read Nina and the Kung Fu Adventure which was also fun and filled with facts!

  14. this is great! I was looking for better books to read with my girls for Chinese New Year. I will have to put this on my list for next year!

  15. Oh! I have been wanting to give this a read! Thanks for sharing a lovely review.I can totally relate to your peeve.. i had a similar problem with another book and decided not to review it. But this one is great for introduction on Chinese zodiac signs for kids. and the art work looks gorgeous. Thanks for sharing on Kidlit Bloghop!

  16. You made an interesting observation about what the emperor says about the rat – that would have totally rubbed me the wrong way as well. Great choice for a book though – the illustrations look amazing and I have to admit that I don’t know the story of the Chinese zodiac so I’m going to be looking for this one in the library. Thanks for linking into the Kid Lit Blog Hop.

  17. Great way to learn about the Chinese culture. Too bad for those of us in Colorado that the Year of the Horse didn’t include Broncos! Thanks for sharing on the Kid Lit Blog Hop. Cheryl, Hop Hostess


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