Christopher Corr tells the story of the Jade Emperor, who, realising that he didn’t know how old he was, decided that there was a need to mark the passage of time. He challenged all the animals in the kingdom to a race, in which the first twelve to cross the river would have a year named after them. In vibrant colour, the animals make their attempts, and all sorts of co-operation or sabotage ensue. The cat and the rat used to be great friends and had curled up together, but the rat leaves the cat sleeping, hitches a ride on the ox and jumps off his back to be the first to land on the riverbank, with the ox second. The tiger is weighed down by water in his fur, but manages to be third, and the rabbit, who doesn’t like getting his feet wet, is lucky enough to find enough floating objects to get across, so he is fourth, and it turns out that the dragon had blown a log in his direction- dragon is fifth. So it continues, with all the animals featured getting their place, except for the cat, who is furious with the rat for not waking him – rats have fled from cats ever since. The animals are all male, but that is probably how the story was told originally.
The colour is wonderful, bold and glowing, and the style is simple and effective. Christopher Corr specialises in folk art, has researched Chinese painting and ceramics and travelled extensively in Asia, so his illustrations look authentically Chinese: the tiger and the dragon are particularly good, and the Jade Emperor is magnificent. His other books include one of folk tales from around the world with Angela McAllister, and My Granny Went to Market by Stella Blackstone, as well as two of Indian legends, for which his style also matches the texts well. This is a book to pore over, and will also be fun to read aloud and share.