21 Jan / The Year of the Snake: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin, illustrated by Jennifer Wood
Three weeks into the new year, and I’m already so behind I surely wouldn’t mind a do-over. I don’t think I’ve ever been this tardy before with the latest annual installment of Oliver Chin‘s energetic, entertaining Tales from the Chinese Zodiac series, but hopefully this is a case of ‘better late than never.’ I could take the glass-half-full approach and claim I’m early: the official Year of the Snake actually doesn’t start until the Lunar New Year which falls on Sunday, February 10. Yeah, I’m gonna go with that: I’m three weeks early!
From the same team that brought you last year’s roaring river adventure, The Year of the Dragon – especially notable as that was my year! – The Year of the Snake showcases the versatile talents of the Dragon’s cousin, the sensational, slithering Suzie. In spite of her mother’s warning to “stick to your own kind,” Suzie is too excited about the “dazzling and colorful world” to do much sleeping. So she sneaks out the snake pit and, with “HISS … hello!,” she instantly makes friends with a spunky little girl named Lily.
Lily takes Suzie to her grandparents’ house, where Yeh Yeh and Nin Nin aren’t exactly the most gracious hosts: rather than a warm welcome, Grandpa Yeh Yeh greets the pair with “Didn’t we tell you not to trust anyone with a forked tongue?” Disrespect aside, Suzie proves to be superbly helpful by catching a cheese-stealing mouse. The oldsters quickly recognize Suzie’s resourceful ingenuity and prod the new best buds to finish Lily’s chores.
Suzie plays leash for the family dog, tightrope for the height-challenged rooster, lifeline for the pig stuck in the mud, harness for the plowing ox, and more. As if the farm chores weren’t enough, Suzie snares a running tiger, who’s actually running from a fire-breathing dragon, who’s really just got a bad case of the hiccups. Suzie surely can do all the tough work, and even save the whole town. What a busy day for a little girl and her bravely slithering best friend: “They proved how true friends could be different but their hearts still beat as one.” Awwwww.
Snake is the eighth title in Chin’s Chinese Zodiac series. Each combines a sense of tenacious accomplishment with just plain rollicking fun. Illustrator Jennifer Wood makes sure to imbue every page with energy in motion – “dazzling and colorful” as Suzie observes. And while Suzie is indubitably this story’s superstar, Wood makes sure every Zodiac animal gets pagetime so no one feels left out. Part cultural exploration, part goofy adventure, part morality tale, and just a wee bit of sort-of-hidden snark for parents to giggle over, Chin’s latest title is also an adorable reminder to get out in the world and enjoy this “sensational Year of the Snake.”
I’ve got another 49 weeks to make that come true!
Tidbit: So you wanna know why Suzie is such a good buddy? Here’s the official description of Snakes in the back of the book: “People born in the Year of the Snake [1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025] seen to warm slowly and savor their leisure. Though they appear slippery and secretive, they can be steely and decisive. But proving both sensitive and flexible, snakes emerge as truly charming and clever friends.”