There’s a tale to be told. “The Jade Emperor, ruler of Heaven and Earth, wished to have a big birthday celebration. He invited his favorite animals from throughout the land, and organized a Great Race to see which one of them could reach the palace first.”
The winner would become the first Jade Star, but other stars would be created as each animal crossed the finish line. Just how some of them got across the river is part of the charm of “The Great Race: How The Chinese Zodiac Came To Be” ($17.95 in hardcover from Greenleaf Book Group Press, minimagellan.com; also for Amazon Kindle). Written by Charles Huang and Stacey Hirata, with illustrations by Jerome Lu, the book explains the ordering of the lunar calendar, from the rat to the pig, twelve animals in all.
Huang “co-created the Guitar Hero video game franchise” and Hirata, “a fourth-generation Japanese-American ... raised in San Francisco,” has led “creative teams for hundreds of video game creators.”
I also found out that Hirata has visited Chico several times and as a child swam in the Feather River during the hot summers. She dedicates the book “to my amazing husband Ford (Year of the Monkey) and my favorite twins Kennedy and Ryder (Year of the Ox).”
Some of the animals take advantage of others in the race. The Rat was small and asked the Ox for a ride. “The Ox, being generous and kind, agreed and began to cross the river. When the Ox reached the other side, the Rat quickly jumped off his back and ran across the finish line, earning first place in the Great Race.” The Ox came in second.
The Rooster found a raft stuck in some weeds, and enlisted “the friendly Monkey and the rugged Ram” to help. “The Jade Emperor was so impressed with their cooperation that he awarded the Ram eighth place, the Monkey ninth place, and the Rooster tenth place.”
The Chinese New Year on February 19 ushered in the Year of the Ram (or Goat or Sheep, depending on who’s telling the story). And now you know why.