By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
“The Year of the Rabbit, Tales from the Chinese Zodiac”
Written by Oliver Chin, Illustrated by Justin Roth
Immedium, Inc., 2011
Just in time for Chinese New Year comes the story of Rosie.
She’s not your average rabbit. For one, her ears are extra, extra long. She is overly curious about the world beyond her immediate surroundings. And despite her papa’s warnings, she and her friends sneak into a fenced-off garden and help themselves to someone else’s vegetables.
Unfortunately, they are caught and chased out of the garden. However, Rosie is not quick enough to escape. She is captured and becomes a pet to a boy named Jai. Once Rosie becomes his pet, she meets other animals from the Chinese zodiac. Rosie’s experiences disprove many assumptions that are made about rabbits before she makes her way back to the burrow with her family.
“The Year of the Rabbit” is Oliver Chin’s sixth book featuring animals from the Chinese zodiac. While this year’s is the rabbit, Chin’s story and Roth’s colorful illustrations also include the remaining 11 animals (I’m not sure how a tiger or a monkey could be living near a farm, but that’s OK).
With a short summary at the beginning and end about the zodiac circle, animals, and characteristics of rabbits, “Rabbit” is a great way of introducing children to the Chinese New Year. The story is light and fun as Rosie displays characteristics of the rabbit in order to get out of sticky situations.
The illustrations are also fun. The animals are cheerful and expressive and add to Chin’s story. My favorite picture is of Rosie standing on top of a TV on one leg with her ears bent. Jai gives her a “thumbs up” sign as the screen is no longer fuzzy.
While I missed “The Year of the Tiger” and the first three stories in the series, I read Chin’s “The Year of the Ox” and thoroughly enjoyed that story. And even though this may not be their year, if the “Rabbit” and “Ox” are anything to go by, I would have to say none of the tales from the Chinese zodiac should be missed.
By Colleen Houck
Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 2011
Kelsey Hayes begins her summer like most newly graduated teenagers — looking for a job.
She finds a job feeding animals and cleaning up at a circus passing through her Oregon town. While on the job, Kelsey becomes drawn to a white tiger, Dhiren.
Outside her feeding and cleaning duties, Kelsey spends most of her spare time drawing, talking to, and reading to “Ren.” She feels he understands her because like Kelsey, an orphan living with foster parents, Ren is alone.
When Kelsey gets the opportunity to accompany the tiger back to India, she jumps at the chance. She soon learns there’s more to her trip abroad than she expected.
First of all, Ren is actually an Indian prince who was cursed into his current form 300 years ago. He can only take human form for 24 minutes a day. Second of all, it appears that Kelsey is the only person who can help Ren. And finally, Kelsey and Ren begin to develop feelings for each other.
I’ll admit that when the latter transpired, I cringed a bit. I expected Kelsey to become the typical female teen character: completely besotted and committed to Ren as though nothing else mattered.
But I was delighted to find her resisting their connection. Kelsey knows how hard it is to lose a loved one, and she has no intention of reliving the experience.
It was refreshing to read of a young female lead that feels with her heart, but still thinks with her head.
I also loved how it isn’t a damsel-in-distress story. There are moments when Ren swoops in to save Kelsey’s life, but in the end, she is the one who is saving him.
One of my favorite things about “Tiger’s Curse” is the pure fantasy of the story. As Kelsey and Ren travel through India in efforts to break the curse, they face reanimated deities, enter into different worlds, and battle some pretty vicious animals.
The adventure of it all is thrilling, and as this is the first of the Tiger Saga series, I’m excited for what’s to come.
“The Gook Lover”
By Ron Wulkan
Putnam, St. Clair & Wyeth, 2007
How do you know when someone is telling you the truth?
Entering the Japanese Imperial Army in the 1930s, young and naïve Tomi Tomigawa quickly learns to be careful about believing what he hears. After learning about his father’s suicide and witnessing the Rape of Nanking, Tomi gets a quick lesson on how the world works.
He is made a war hero for no reason other than propaganda purposes. He is used as a pawn to further Imperial Japan’s purposes.
“The Gook Lover” follows six decades of Tomi’s life, from his early days in the Imperial Army to the 1990s during which he becomes known as the “Henry Ford of Modern Japan.” In between those years, Tomi is involved in Japan’s medical experiments on prisoners, becomes a spy at Pearl Harbor, and commits war crimes. He lies, steals, and cheats to survive.
I have to admit that I became squeamish at certain points of the book. Wulkan pays attention to detail, and you can almost picture yourself right next to Tomi, which make some scenes very unsettling — Tomi’s time in Nanking is particularly horrifying. But it is this very detail that kept me reading. Things aren’t glossed over or sugarcoated, and sometimes, that’s what we need.
While this is a work of fiction, it is also a piece of historical fiction. “Gook Lover” got me wondering what is true.
I think this is Wulkan’s goal. Just as Tomi learns at a young age to be skeptical of what people claim to be true, readers should stop to consider the possibility of fiction being fact — or at least based on fact. ♦
Samantha Pak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.