The wise priests could tell when rains would come and predict how plentiful the harvest would be. The people of the Middle Kingdom didn't have a way to mark time, but the priests realized that as they looked back upon their lives, certain years had specific hallmarks: some years were years of action and success like a monkey, and other years were times of careful thought and planning like a snake. After talking together and closely observing the animals around them, the wise people could tell that the years seemed to be influenced by one of 12 different animals. So they concluded that time was governed by 12 animals which correlated with specific influences--and each animal ruled one year. They also noticed that all the people they observed seemed to be ruled by a certain animal, as well.
The book then goes into the delightful story of the Jade Emperor, and how it was decided that the Rat would be first in the cycle, followed by Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Boar.
Next is a Chinese Zodiac chart that has every year from 1924 to 2043 and it's corresponding animal, which makes it easy to locate your animal year. Two pages are devoted for every animal in the Zodiac. The first page features a short explanation of the characteristics of the animal, and then has a short section on the qualities of a person born in that year, what kind of trouble a person may have, and who makes the best friends. For example, a person born in the year of the rat is hard working, intelligent, and a charmer--among other qualities. Rats can have trouble if she lets her suspicious nature take control and works too much, and her best companions are Ox, Dragon, and Monkey. The second page tells a corresponding story from Chinese folklore that features the animal. For example, the story about the Rat is called Rat's Big Day At The Market.
Color illustrations grace each page of the book. The author, Gregory Crawford, is also the illustrator of the book. The pictures in Animals in the Stars were done in mixed media: pen and ink, watercolor, gouache, acrylics, and colored pencils. It is 31 pages long, and while it's a children's book, I think even adults would enjoy it! It was interesting to learn about Chinese culture, read a traditional story about each of the animals, find out how the Rat ended up being chosen as the first animal of the Chinese Zodiac, and to understand the personality qualities for the 12 animals.
I tested the story on my son who's 5, but he wouldn't sit still long enough for me to get through the first section; also, it would make for a very long bedtime story! Perhaps a parent could read about one animal a night for those with longer attention spans. It's written in a very understandable way, but older children may have trouble with the Chinese proper names. However, there is a good amount of text which should help older children flex their reading muscles.
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