Tales from the Chinese Zodiac: The Year of the Monkey
written by Oliver Chin, illustrated by Kenji Ono
‘The Monkey King was a legendary prankster’ – so begins this eleventh book in Oliver Chin’s Tales from the Chinese Zodiac series: but this story isn’t about the Monkey King; it’s about his son, Max(!), who is as mischievous and cheeky as any small Monkey should be! When he starts school, Max finds it hard to sit quietly and pay attention and his monkey capers get him into trouble. Then his teacher takes the class to the gym, where Max is entranced by a game of Jianzi or shuttlecock, especially after watching champions Dragon and Tiger in training for the annual shuttlecock competition. Max and his (human) friend Kai decide to enter the competition themselves and throw themselves into learning the new sport, demonstrating team-work, determination and resilience, and picking up some self-discipline along the way…
The Year of the Monkey is the eleventh in Oliver Chin’s highly acclaimed Tales from the Chinese Zodiac series and is another winner, combining the playfulness that makes the stories so appealing to young readers with some good role-modelling based on the characteristics of each animal in the twelve-year cycle. This story has the added bonus of The Monkey King and Queen’s place in Chinese mythology too, and Chin brings them of age here, setting the dynamic of mature parents vs. adventurous youth beautifully, contributing an important layer to the story. There are several laugh-out-loud moments, and Chin certainly doesn’t miss a trick in exploiting every possible monkey trait and allusion, while confidently setting the story within its anthropomorphic framework – so Max loves climbing; and when he gets excited he yells, ‘Oo-oo, Aa-aa’. I think young readers are going to love joining in there; and there will certainly be plenty of appreciative groans in response to such wordplay as ‘The crowd has gone bananas!’.
Whilst Chin is the author of all the Tales from the Chinese Zodiac, several illustrators, all with a background in animation, have contributed their talents to the series. The Year of the Monkey introduces Kenji Ono; and the cover is enough to demonstrate that the illustrations are as energetic as the narrrative: in fact, they make readers leap about just like a monkey themselves, encompassing a variety of persectives and viewpoints. They fill in a wealth of unspoken details and readers will also be able to seek out all the other animals of the zodiac in various guises. Details such as the Chinese schoolroom equipped with ink blocks and brushes as well as the backgrounds, including iconic mountainscapes, all contribute to the strong Chinese identity of the story: more so than other books in the series, and appropriately so, given that the story relates to the Monkey King (and the Jade Emperor makes an appearance too).
Children will love the energy of both the narrative and the animation-inspired pictures in The Year of the Monkey – and alongside the humour there is a depth to the story, as young readers observe how Max doesn’t give up when he realises that Jianzi is harder than he first thought and also learns to save his mischief for playtime. The book is another great addition to the Tales of the Zodiac series, as well as a thoroughly enjoyable stand-alone story for this Year of the Monkey and beyond.
Read MWD’s interview with author Oliver Chin (2014).
Download colouring pages of characters from The Year of the Monkey and the other books in the Tales from the Chinese Zodiac series.