No Year of the Cat

The Emperor has a problem. He wants his people to remember the year in which his son was born. But there is no way to keep track of the years. So the Emperor devises a race in which animals will cross a river. The first twelve animals to reach the opposite side will have a year named after them. Thus, the people will be able to remember the years and the events that occurred. And so the race is set. Rat, knowing he is no match for the rushing water, schemes with Cat on how to cross the river. Together the two convince Ox to carry them across. But halfway across the river, Rat shows his true colors. Will Cat make it to the other side? Which animals will have a year named after them? Accompanied by exquisite watercolor artwork, this charming story explains the origins of the Chinese calendar.

Format List Price Your Price Qty
$16.95 $16.95
$28.95 $28.95
Interest Level Grade 1 - Grade 4
Reading Level
Dewey 398.2
ATOS Reading Level 3.7
Guided Reading Level
Language English
Publisher Sleeping Bear Press
Available Formats Hardcover (9781585367856), PDF (9781627531078), Hosted ebook (9781627535427)
Copyright 2013, 2014
Number of Pages 32
Dimensions 11 x 9
Graphics Full-color illustrations Reviews "No Year of the Cat"

“No Year of the Cat” by Mary Dodson Wade and illustrated by Nicole Wong is a lovely retelling of a Chinese folktale explaining why the Chinese calendar features the animals it does — and no cat. The illustrations are beautiful — pastel with an Eastern feel.

The emperor decides he needs to find a way to remember the auspicious year when his son was born. He decides to have a contest in which animals will race across a river. The first twelve to reach the other side will have a year named after them.

Many animals compete in the contest. The story tells of cat and rat, friends, who hitch a ride on ox. Through trickery, rat pushes cat off ox. Cat arrives after twelve other animals and does not get to be included among the calendar animals.

And that is why, to this day, cat hates rat.

Children will enjoy reading the folktale and discussing why it’s considered a folktale. Any teacher doing a unit on folktales should make sure this is included in the unit.

No Year of the Cat

One night last year, you went to bed and woke up a year later.

It wasn’t magic or because you were really tired. It happened because it was New Year’s Eve: you went to sleep in 2012 and woke up to 2013. Next December, you’ll do it again with a whole new year.

If you lived in China, you’d call this the Year of the Snake. The Horse follows, then the Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig, Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit and the Dragon. But something’s missing, and in the new book No Year of the Cat by Mary Dodson Wade and Nicole Wong, you’ll find out why.

The emperor had a problem.

Everybody in his empire knew the seasons. They understood time to plant and time to rest. But they couldn’t remember the years, which meant that no one could recall when floods or storms happened. And since the prince was born in this auspicious year, not remembering was a problem.

So the emperor, who was very wise, devised a plan.

“We will have a race!” he said. “The first twelve animals to cross the great river will each have a year named for them.”

So on the big day, all the animals gathered on the shores of the river. Cat and Rat were there, and they were scheming. They decided to ask Ox to carry them across on his wide, strong back.

Ox agreed, and Cat and Rat scrambled up. They all plunged into the river and Ox began to swim hard and fast. He was way ahead of all the other animals, so when he stumbled up on the other side of the water, the emperor declared that Rat was first and Ox was second.

Tiger arrived with a droopy tail. Rabbit took the easy way across. Dragon stopped to help some farmers, so he was fifth. Snake slithered in, then Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, and Dog. Pig trotted up and took last place, telling the emperor that he was late because he was hungry.

The emperor smiled. His empire now had a way to remember the years (especially the auspicious ones). All the animals were very happy – except for Cat. She had totally missed being counted. Where had she been all that time?

Kids will giggle when they find out the answer and what happens, because No Year of the Cat is a very likeable book.

Basing her story loosely on an ancient traditional Chinese folktale that’s “familiar … in the Chinese culture,” Wade offers children an explanation for the 12-animal cycle in the Chinese calendar and why those specific animals were chosen. I loved the different personalities that each animal gets here, and I loved the way the story is woven in with Wong’s Asian-inspired illustrations.

No Year of the Cat review - January SLJ

K-Gr 4–The story of the Chinese zodiac is a popular folktale of friendship and betrayal, retold again and again in picture-book format. Since no one in the kingdom remembers when important events have occurred, the emperor decides to create a 12-year calendar. The first 12 animals to win the race across the kingdom’s rushing river will provide the nomenclature. Wong’s creative use of the landscape highlights the dynastic setting while borders around the text showcase the white-water race, emphasizing the cyclical nature of the calendar. The watercolor illustrations’ overall deftness, panoramic views, and traditional sensibility will please children. The dynamic, humorous storytelling spotlights the role of the advisors. Readers get a strong sense of the Han emperor’s daily routine, palace, and costume–as well as of his mirthful personality. Various traits also shine forth from the animals–the magnanimity of Ox, the honesty of Pig, and, of course, the treachery of Rat. A beautiful visual touch at the race’s finale is the elated emperor holding an outstretched scroll with the names of the 12 victorious animals in both English and Chinese characters, animals huddled around. Don’t miss the wonderful ideas in the online teaching guide either. That said, Ed Young’s calligraphy-inspired, more abstractly illustrated version of the folktale, Cat and Rat (Square Fish, 1998), has superior back matter, including a timetable to determine in which animal year readers were born. This version, along with Young’s classic, would make a thought-provoking, contrastive pairing.

No Year of the Cat - Teaching Guide

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Author: Mary Dodson Wade

A former teacher and elementary school librarian, Mary Dodson Wade has published approximately 60 books. She is a member of the Texas State Historical Association and the Texas Library Association, and lives in Houston, Texas.

Illustrator: Nicole Wong

Nicole Wong has lived her whole life in Fall River, Massachusetts, walking along downtown streets where once a river and eight waterfalls flowed, all demolished and replaced by an interstate highway. A graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, Nicole has illustrated more than twenty-five books for children, including Kiyoshi’s Walk, Diving Deep, Three Lost Seeds, I'll Be the Water, and No Year of the Cat. She lives with her husband, their daughter, and their pets.

Full-color illustrations