I have always delighted in pourquoi folktales, especially when told with humor. Mary Dodson Wade’s No Year of the Cat tickled my funny bone with its explanation for why there is no year of the cat in the Chinese calendar as well as why cats chase rats.
The story has been retold many times, but this is by far my favorite.
The emperor wants to name the years so he can remember when important events happened, especially the birth of his son. He decides to organize a race among the animals with the promise that the first 12 to cross the great river will have a year named for them. Several animals decide to help each other. Cat and Rat, who are good friends, persuade Ox to carry them on his back. However, as they get close to shore, Rat shoves Cat into the river, jumps onto land and greets the emperor first. Ox comes in second place. Poor Cat arrives too late to be included among the 12, which understandably renders her furious with Rat. This is the reason why Cat has been hunting Rat ever since.
The storytelling is wonderfully humorous and the watercolor illustrations by Nicole Wong equally so. They are filled with energy, delightful details as well as grand landscapes. I especially love the many cultural aspects that Wong captures. For instance, at the race’s finale, the emperor stands holding a scroll with the names of the 12 victorious animals in both English and Chinese characters.
If you go to this site and scroll down to No Year of the Cat you’ll find a great teaching guide.
It might also be fun to compare and contrast this version with others. Here are some I like:
Cat and Rat: The Legend of the Chinese Zodiac by Ed Young.
The Great Race by Dawn Casey.
The Story of the Chinese Zodiac by Monica Chang.
Why Rat Comes First by Clara Yen.
By the way, 2013 is the year of the snake and snake came in sixth place.