New book looks to teach children folklore of Chinese Zodiac

Updated: 2015-01-30 11:37

By Amy He in New York(China Daily USA)

  Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

New book looks to teach children folklore of Chinese Zodiac

Newly released The Great Race: How the Chinese Zodiac Came to Be is a children's book that teaches kids about the folklore behind the 12 Chinese zodiac signs. PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Most people know what zodiac sign they were born under, but many likely don't know the folklore behind the 12 animals that make up the Chinese Zodiac. A new book aims to explain that back story for children.

The Great Race: How the Chinese Zodiac Came to Be, released on Jan 16, is an illustrated take by Charles Huang and Stacey Hirata on how the animals earned their place on the lunar calendar.

"I think we thought about how people don't really understand any of the history or culture behind the zodiac," Huang told China Daily. "It's funny how they get introduced to us, because people knew this was the Year of the Horse (the Year of the Ram will start on Feb 19) but no one knew the story behind it. When we tell the story to them, they're usually fascinated, and they get to learn something about another culture as well."

Speaking of those stories, legend has it that the Jade Emperor once organized a race and asked a number of animals to participate in a swimming contest. Whoever crossed a river the quickest would win a heavenly reward.

A cunning mouse asked an ox to help carry it across the river, only to sprint away after it reached land. It ended up being the first animal to complete the race, and thus the first year of the 12-year zodiac cycle is named for the mouse.

The book was illustrated by Jerome Lu and is meant for children age 7 and above. The illustration style adapts an aesthetic that would be recognizable to American children who were raised watching animated videos and movies from companies like Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks, according to Huang.

"Despite the fact that the illustrator Jerome Lu is Chinese American, we really selected an art style that is not Chinese," Huang said. "That's probably most noticeable in the character of the dragon. A Chinese dragon has a very different look than a Western dragon. We wanted to make the stories appealing to a lot of people, who didn't grow up with Chinese culture. We wanted to make the story appealing to all the kids in America."

The authors wanted to take a story that is "deeply Chinese" and bring it to mainstream culture, especially as the Lunar New Year holiday becomes more recognizable to people outside of the Asian community, they said.

"It's a holiday where there already is some familiarity with it out there with other ethnicities," Hirata said. "They know it exists. It's easier to digest and accept a culture in a very easy way without feeling like you're knocking someone over the head with it. I think that's important - that awareness with Chinese New Year becoming much more mass accepted across the nation."

"It helps to get people more involved in the culture rather than taking something that's a very detailed specific story," she said. "The Great Race was a great choice to ease people to introducing the culture to them and kids."

Hirata said that there are many books dedicated to different Asian folklore tales, but much of them are designed and illustrated in ways that children might not be able to appreciate. The art is meant more for adults, and may be harder for children to grasp, she said.

Several drafts of the book were tested with about 100 children, parents and teachers, and they were all well-received, with the children heavily engaging with the story and relating it to their own lives, Hirata said.

"It's important to spread that sort of cultural awareness out there, and just be more socially conscious," she said. "I'm a mom of twins, and I think it's important as a parent. ABCs and 123s and education, we focus so hard on it, but I also think it's really important to give kids some balance with social and cultural awareness."