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The Year of the Rat
By Grace Lin
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- Trade Paperback (New edition) $7.99 $11.99 CAD
- ebook $6.99 $8.99 CAD
- Audiobook Download (Unabridged)
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Based on the author’s childhood adventures, Year of the Rat, features the whimsical black and white illustrations and the hilarious and touching anecdotes that helped Year of the Dog earn rave reviews and satisfied readers.
The Year of the Rat
"HAPPY YEAR OF THE RAT!" DAD SAID AS HE toasted us with his glass. The clinking noises filled the air as the adults knocked glasses of wine against the kids' cups of juice.
It was the eve of Chinese New Year, and my best friend, Melody, and her family had come for the celebration dinner just as they had for the last two years. Before Melody moved to upstate New York, I always celebrated Chinese New Year with just my family—me, Ki-Ki, Lissy, Mom, and Dad—because we were the only Asian people in the area. But since Melody and her family were also Taiwanese, they came to celebrate the New Year with us.
As usual, the table was covered with food. Mom had to make enough food for ten people (Melody also had five people in her family—two brothers and her parents) and leftovers. There always has to be food left over after a Chinese New Year dinner because that means you'll have more than enough for the year. So the platters of pork, yellow noodles, roasted duck, soft cotton-white steamed buns, fried dumplings, delicate silver fish, and vegetables so shiny they looked polished, crowded the table. There was barely enough room for our plates.
"Ugh, Year of the Rat," Lissy said at the dinner table. "I liked last year better, when it was the Year of the Pig. I was lucky then."
I rolled my eyes at Melody. She just gave me a small smile. I could tell that since her parents were here and they were guests for dinner, she had to be polite. She couldn't make any rude faces like she normally would with me.
But since it was my house, I didn't have to be polite.
"Oink! Oink!" I snorted. "Lissy's a PIG!"
"Pacy," Mom said in a way that meant "behave."
"You're not supposed to say anything rude or bad on the New Year," Melody's mom said. "Or you'll bring bad things into the year."
Well, that bothered me. I didn't want a whole year of bad luck just because I said a couple of silly things. I quickly quieted down.
"In America," Dad said, ignoring me, "rats are looked down on. But Chinese people actually admire rats."
"Why?" Benji, Melody's younger brother, asked.
"They think the rat is very smart and charming," Daddy said. "And he's first."
"What do you mean, first?" Ki-Ki asked.
"You know the story of why all the Chinese years are named after animals, right?" Mom said.
Lissy and Felix nodded, but Ki-Ki shook her head. "I remember a little," I said. "But I forget."
"Okay, I'll tell you again," Dad said.
THE STORY OF THE TWELVE ANIMALS OF CHINESE NEW YEAR OR HOW THE RAT WAS FIRST
A long time ago, so long that you couldn't even imagine it, the Jade Emperor had a birthday. Since he was the Jade Emperor, the king of all the heavens, he invited the animals on the earth to come to his celebration. And, he said, to add to the festivities, it would be a race. The first twelve to arrive would win the prize of a year named after them.
So, of course all the animals wanted this honor. But separating the earth and the Jade Emperor's palace was a large and forceful river, with violent waves that rose and crashed over and over again like the pounding of a thunderous drum. All the animals worried about getting across.
Many animals decided to train and prepare themselves for the event, like athletes before a marathon. One such animal was the cat. Every day he worked—strengthening his muscles, holding his breath, and trying to get used to water.The night before the race, the cat put himself through vigorous exercises one last time. Exhausted, he went to bed, asking his friend the rat to wake him up in the morning in time to start the race.
The rat agreed, but his mind was elsewhere. The rat knew he was a poor swimmer, too weak and too small to manage the river's waves. But he wanted to be an honored animal. He refused to give up. So, all night he sat and thought and plotted.
In the morning, the rat followed the strong water ox like a shadow. As soon as the race started, the rat made a flying leap onto the ox's back. The rat was so small and light that the muscular ox didn't even notice he was there. And, since the water ox was the best swimmer he was easily leading the race. The powerful ox had no fear of the rough water he wallowed in everyday. Even with the fierce waves fighting him, he moved forward undaunted.
But, as soon as the Jade Emperor's kingdom was within range, the rat gave another flying leap and was the first ashore. He was the winner! So, the rat was rewarded by having the first year named after him.
The ox was second. And then the tiger, then the rabbit (who had made it across by jumping from one river stone to the next), the flying dragon (who wasn't first because he stopped to make it rain for some people), the snake (who had wrapped himself around the horse's ankle and scared the horse when he slithered off, causing the horse to jump back), the horse, then the sheep, monkey and rooster (who had built a raft together), the dog, and then lastly the pig (who was late because he got hungry on the way and stopped to eat). And so, the twelve years were named.
And what about the cat? The rat forgot to wake him up in the morning, so he slept through the entire contest. That is why there is no Year of the Cat. That is also why whenever a cat sees a rat it hisses and attacks. The cat has never forgiven the rat for not waking him up and making him miss the race.
"So, the rat was the first of the twelve animals to finish the race," Dad finished. "That's why his year is first."
"So that means Lissy has to wait twelve whole years before it's her year again!" I said. I knew I shouldn't, but I couldn't resist annoying her. "Ha-ha!"
"Yes," Mom said as she nodded. "And, you know, since the Year of the Rat is the first year of the next twelve-year cycle, it symbolizes new beginnings."
"And that means changes," Melody's mom said, and she gave her family a funny look I didn't understand. "The Year of the Rat is the time to make a fresh start and to change things."
Melody and I looked at each other. She had a weird look on her face. I felt confused. Changes? I liked the way things were right now. What was going to happen in the Year of the Rat?
New Year Resolutions
THIS YEAR, CHINESE NEW YEAR WAS ON A Saturday, so we could stay up late. After dinner, we all gathered in the family room. As Dad made a warm fire in our fireplace, Ki-Ki almost closed her eyes from sleepiness.
"Uh-oh," Lissy said. "Wake up, Ki-Ki! You have to welcome in the New Year!"
"Yes," Melody's dad said. "We have to keep you up all night. The longer you stay awake, the longer lives we will have."
"Then you better do something to keep us awake," Melody said. "Do something so we're not bored."
"Oh, you want us to entertain you, huh?" Dad laughed. "Okay, let's see. I can sing. Do-re-mi . . ."
"NO!" we all said together.
"How about if you all write down your New Year's resolutions?" Dad said. "You can think about what you want to accomplish in the New Year."
"You're supposed to do that for the American New Year," Lissy objected. "Not Chinese New Year."
"So?" Dad said. "We celebrate both. We can make up our own traditions."
Even though it seemed a little bit like school, it didn't sound so bad. So, I got paper and pencils for everyone. When we sat down and started to write, I grinned at Melody. I knew that the one thing that both of us really wanted for the New Year was for Sam Mercer to like us. He was the cutest boy in our grade. But neither one of us was going to write that down!
When Mom and Dad read my resolutions, they laughed.
"Well, these are very unusual resolutions," Dad said, "though I guess most people would like to share your last resolution."
"Americans write resolutions," Mom said. "Chinese and Taiwanese people write wishes. I think some of the things on your list are more like wishes."
"Is there a big difference?" I asked.
"Well, a resolution is something you can try to accomplish," Mom said. "For a wish to come true, it needs someone else to make it happen."
"Resolutions are better," Dad said. "You're more powerful. You don't have to depend on anyone. A wish is left to fate, but a resolution is a change you make yourself. You can change your destiny with your resolution."
I didn't really understand what Dad was talking about—fate and destiny and resolutions? I did like the idea of being powerful, but I also really liked the idea of someone else making my wishes come true—that seemed a lot easier. I looked at Melody's list. Hers were a lot like mine, except for one.
"Why did you write 'stay in New Hartford'?" I asked. New Hartford was the name of our town, the one we lived in now.
Melody looked sad. "I wasn't supposed to tell you because we aren't supposed to have sad feelings on New Year," she said. "But my mom told me we might be moving."
"Moving!" I said. "You can't move! You just got here."
"I know," she said. "I don't want to. But my Dad's company wants to give him a job in California."
"California is on the other side of the country!" I said. "That's too far. You can't go."
"Well, my mom said maybe," Melody said. "So, maybe we won't. Let's hope for good luck."
"Pacy, Melody!" Mom said, calling us over. "It's almost midnight." Mom handed us funny hats and noisemakers, and we all watched the clock. But, even though I blew and yelled when the clock hit twelve, I was quiet and worried on the inside. Melody was my best friend— we did everything together. If she left, I would be the only Asian student in my elementary school, except for Ki-Ki. If Melody moved, everything would change.
MELODY AND I BOTH WENT TO THE OXFORD Road Elementary School. Our teacher, Ms. Magon, was very strict about talking in class. She made Melody sit on the right side of the room and me on the left side, because she said we talked too much when we sat next to each other.
But on the Monday after Chinese New Year, we weren't sitting in the classroom. We were going on a field trip! Our class had been studying about the American Revolution and so everyone in our grade was going to a place called Fort Stanwix. It was a real fort that the soldiers had used during the war. We were all going to pretend that we were American soldiers and experience what it would have been like there during the Revolutionary War.
Our class had been preparing for this trip for a long time. We had to sew our own haversacks, which were the bags that the soldiers carried all their things in. I wasn't happy with my haversack. Mom had given me an old pillowcase to make mine out of, so it had buttercup flowers sprinkled all over it. I thought it was ridiculous. What soldier would have a yellow, flowered haversack?
We were going to eat like soldiers, too; we were going to make homemade stew over a fire. So everyone was assigned to bring an ingredient. I brought a turnip, while Melody brought an onion. She was kind of worried about the onion because at the grocery store it was labeled a "Spanish Onion" and we didn't think the Revolutionary soldiers would get onions from Spain. But Ms. Magon said it was okay.
Before we went, Ms. Magon divided us into ranks. There was going to be a sergeant, two corporals, and two cooks from each class. The rest of us would be privates. Ms. Magon picked the names from a bowl. Melody was a corporal! I didn't get picked, so that meant I was a private.
Since Melody was a corporal, she had to walk at the front of the line when Ms. Magon gave us our "marching orders" to the bus. I walked in the back with my other friends Becky and Charlotte. They were fun. Becky was the one who named Melody and me "The Almost Twins" because we had so many things in common—like being the only Asians in school. Becky had curly brown hair, while Charlotte had pale waves like unbraided silk rope. Before Melody had moved here, they had been my best friends. We were still friends now, but Melody was my best friend.
"One, two, three," Becky whispered to me. "Forward, March!"
"This is so silly," Charlotte said. "Revolutionary War soldiers wouldn't be getting on school buses."
"Yes," I said. "But if we were Revolutionary War soldiers, we'd have to march all the way there."
"And stay there," Becky added. "We'd have to eat there and sleep there in the dirt with rats! Yuck!"
"Rats aren't that bad," I said, thinking about the Year of the Rat and Dad's story.
"What?!" Becky said. Both she and Charlotte looked at me as if I were crazy. "Rats are disgusting!"
"No," I said, trying to explain. "It's the Year of the Rat this year. And to Chinese people, rats aren't that bad."
"Ew!" Charlotte said. "Well, I'm glad I'm not Chinese then!"
Praise for Year of the Rat:
A CCBC Fiction for Children Choice
"Readers of this gentle, appealing sequel will appreciate the way the engaging protagonist discovers she can survive the changes a new year brings."
"An endearing story that will touch readers."
Praise for Year of the Dog:
ALA Children's Notables list pick
Booklist Editor's Choice
Kirkus Best Early Chapter Book
New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing selection
Gold Award from the National Parenting Publications Awards
Texas Bluebonnet Nominee
[star] "Lin does a remarkable job capturing the soul and spirit of books like those of Hayward or Maud Hart Lovelace, reimagining them through the lens of her own story, and transforming their special qualities into something new for today's young readers."
--Booklist, starred review
"For any reader who enjoys stories of friendship and family life."
"Girls everywhere, but especially those in the Asian-American community, will find much to embrace here."
"A gentle tale full of humor."
--The Horn Book
- On Sale
- Mar 19, 2019
- Page Count
- 208 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers