What the Rat Told Me

What the Rat Told Me: A Legend of the Chinese Zodiac by Marie Sellier, Catherine Louis and Wang Fei

This picture book is adapted from a Chinese Buddhist legend that explains why the cat and rat don’t get along at the same time it introduces the Chinese zodiac.  The Great Emperor of Heaven invited all of the animals to visit him before sunrise on the top of the Jade Mountain.  Cat protests that it is too early for her, but rat assures her that he will wake her in time.  But when the time comes in the morning, rat plays a trick by not waking the cat.  He also manages to slip to the front of the group by riding up the mountain on the ox’s head.  So Rat becomes the first symbol of the zodiac and the animals continue from there.  The book concludes with the Chinese zodiac and the pleasure of finding out your corresponding animal.

This book is so graphically strong and stunning.  Done just in black and red, the images are linoleum prints.  Each zodiac animal is depicted along with its Chinese symbol.  The text is nicely simple and strong, a great pairing with the images.  Each zodiac animal is shown having the characteristics that the zodiac gives them. 

This is one of those books that looks so very simple but takes such great skill.  Perfect for zodiac units around Chinese New Year, this book would be rough for story times with mixed ages because you would spend a lot of time looking up dates.  It might be nice for a classroom with a limited age range but only if you aren’t worried about children becoming monkeys, horses and oxen.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Buffalo Song

Buffalo Song by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth.

A boy and his father find a buffalo calf who has survived the slaughter of its herd by white hunters.  They take the calf to Walking Coyote who adds it to his herd of young buffalo, calling him Little Thunder Hoof.  Walking Coyote and his family then lead the herd of nine calves over the mountains to safety.  The trip is treacherous and filled with dangers.  When they reached the St. Ignatius Mission, the priests refuse to take the animals so they journey onto the Salish people.  As years pass, the buffalo herd grows and Walking Coyote finds others who share his vision of hills and fields black with buffalo roaming free.

Bruchac’s words sing here as they lead readers from the slaughter through dangers to safety and survival.  There is plenty here for readers to enjoy with spiritual aspects, environmentalism and adventure.  Farnsworth’s art is a magnificent accompaniment to the text, offering lots of nature, vistas and landscapes, and the promise of the blanket of buffalo.

Recommended as a very accessible book on Native American culture.  The beauty mixed with the adventure will have kids enjoying this book thoroughly.  Appropriate for ages 5-9.