cover image Cat and Rat

Cat and Rat

Ed Young. Henry Holt & Company, $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-2977-2

In this intriguing picture book, Caldecott Medalist Young (Seven Blind Mice) retells a Chinese folktale about the origins of the zodiac. The Jade Emperor of Heaven invites all the animals in the land to participate in a race through the thickest part of the forest and across the river at its widest point; the first 12 to finish will have a year in the Chinese calendar named after them. Young focuses on Cat and Rat, originally best friends. But when Cat and Rat convince Buffalo to let them ride on his back across the river, greedy Rat tricks them both and wins first place for himself. How the other animals cross the finish line and how Cat arrives too late to be included in the zodiac explains not only the character of each of the zodiac signs but cleverly suggests how the enmity between cats and rats began. Complex and well-told, the story will hold the reader's interest. The design is even more striking: panels of white type on black pages are juxtaposed with dark, scumbled charcoal-and-pastel illustrations. However, Young's characteristically abstract compositions and the murky and sometimes frightening representations of the animals may be difficult for children to decipher. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)