Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Year of the Monkey: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin, illustrated by Kenji Ono

Chinese New Year begins on February 8, 2016 and this year it is the Year of the Monkey from the Chinese zodiac.  And just in time for the New Year celebrations, comes Oliver Chin's The Year of the Monkey: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac for young readers.

Max is the son of the legendary prankster, the Monkey King and his Queen.  You know Max is going to be quite a monkey when the Jade Emperor sees him and warns that if Max follows in his parents footsteps, the world would certainly have to take notice.

At school, Max isn't the best student and ends up in the principal's office, but he loves playing in the school yard on the jungle gym and swings.  One day, Max and his new friend Kai are taken to the gym by their teacher.  There, Max sees other kids kicking a feathered weight in a game called Jianzi or shuttlecock, a game similar to hackey-sack.

Jianzi is a game right up Max's alley, requiring lots of energy and skill, so he and Kai begin to practice every chance they get.  Max wants to be the best player he can be, but his mom, the Queen, tells him to stop wasting his time on games, that they have higher expectations for him.  When the annual shuttlecock tornament is announced, everyone agrees that the champions, the Tiger and the Dragon, are unbeatable champions and it would take a miracle for them to be defeated.
A typical shuttlecock
A miracle?  Those odds really appeal to the Monkey King and his son Max.  So Max and Kai begin to practice with renewed determination.  But to win a tournament, Max would need a special move, a winning kick so to speak, and his dad has just the right move for him.  But can two youngsters possibly defeat the seasoned Jianzi champions? 

I read The Year of the Monkey to my two young neighbors, Lilly and John, who knew nothing about the Chinese New Year or the Chinese zodiac.  They loved the story and the characters and wanted to know more about the Monkey King and the other animals of the zodiac.  Unfortunately, neither was born in a Year of the Monkey.  But this is the kind of story that works well when it comes to teaching kids about cultures other than their own, as I discovered with Lilly and John.  They particularly liked the illustrations by Kenji Ono.  I also found them to be fun and colorful, having the same level of energy that Max has.   Now, the kids want to read all of Oliver Chin's Chinese zodiac tales.  

One of the things I really liked about Max's story is that it showed young readers that they can channel their abundant energy into a creative outlet, just as Max did.  The Monkey King may have been quite the  pranster, but his son Max decides to put his energy into becoming a successful Jianzi competitor.

As you read this book, you will notice that the characters are diverse, by which I mean they are not all Chinese and they are not all animals.  It is an interesting approach to representing different characters in a picture book, human, animal and zodiac.

There is a brief explanation of the zodiac in Chinese culture at the front of the book and at the back of the book is a description of the traits people born in the Year of the Monkey possess.  Don't know if your sign is the Monkey?  The different years are listed, too.  My sign is not the Monkey, but my sister's is (and may I say, that explains a lot about her). 

The Year of the Monkey is the eleventh book in Oliver Chin's zodiac series and the first one that is written in both English and simplified Chinese characters.  Since I don't know Chinese, I sent a page to my Kiddo to read.  I like to know that in a bilingual book, the are the same.  Now she wants the whole book to read.  I hope you do, too.

This book is recommended for readers age 4+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Immedium

Good Luck, Good Health, Good Cheer and Pass a Happy New Year

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