About Our Author and Illustrator
Sarah Brennan was born in Tasmania, Australia, and grew up on the slopes of Mount Wellington, surrounded by bush land, a menagerie of exotic animals and a creek complete with its own platypus. “I began writing stories and poems when I was about seven and haven’t really stopped since, although ten years working as a medical lawyer in London did tend to get in the way! After moving to Hong Kong in 1998, I started writing a humorous column for a parenting magazine, then my first children’s story, A Dirty Story, was published in 2004. But the more Hong Kong schools I visited, the more I wanted to write books that were relevant to the kids I was meeting. That’s why I began writing the Chinese Calendar Tales.”
Sarah has authored eight books to date, including five Calendar Tales so far, two Dirty Stories and a humorous parenting advice manual entitled Dummies for Mummies: What to Expect when You’re Least Expecting. She lives in Hong Kong overlooking the South China Sea, with her French husband, two daughters and an opinionated cocker spaniel.
The Illustrator: Harry Harrison
Robert Harrison, nicknamed “Harry”, grew up with a Dad in the British Air Force, so he lived in many different places including Singapore and Libya before settling down in West London. As a boy, he loved insects, exploring, climbing trees, making dens and playing war, but he didn’t like sport!
He has been drawing for as long as he can remember, but he’s never had any formal art training. Harry worked as a freelance illustrator in Sydney and London before settling in Hong Kong, where he became the iconic Harry, political cartoonist for the South China Morning Post. He is also a regular contributor to The Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, Time magazine, the International Finance Review and the Far Eastern Economic Review. He lives with his wife, son and daughter and a restlessly senile cat on Lamma Island in Hong Kong.
China: the world’s most populous country, and poised to become the world’s largest economy, possibly as early as 2020. The old adage “Go West young man” is fast being replaced with “Go East young person” as the world stage shifts from West to East. It is clear that school children everywhere will be increasingly exposed to China in one way or the other in the future; many will find themselves heading for the powerhouse economies of China and India to seek employment and opportunities at the end of their education.
So an understanding of China, its very long and tumultuous history, its rich culture and its fascinating customs, is long overdue. Not to mention increasingly important for our school children, for whom China will be a major economic force for the rest of their lifetimes.
The Chinese Calendar Tales is a growing series of funny and fabulous illustrated story books for children aged between 5 and 12, based on the animals of the Chinese Zodiac. The Chinese Calendar is over 2600 years old, and is widely observed in China, East Asia, and throughout the world by the Chinese Diaspora. It has 12 zodiac signs represented by 12 different animals, and each new Chinese Year is named after one of them. Each story highlights different aspects of Chinese history, culture and tradition in a funny and child-friendly way, whilst the characters emulate the traditional characteristics of the animal they represent.
It is intended that by the end of the series, young readers will have gained an introduction to some of the major Chinese historical figures and events, many of its cultural and traditional practices, and its extremely varied topography.
Author Sarah Brennan says: “Chinese culture and history are fascinating, and not enough people know about them. Now with China so huge on the world stage, everyone wants to know about China…I believe that it’s highly important for …..kids learning about China to be able to read books ….which relate to Chinese culture and traditions in an appealing and accessible way.” Global Times, China, September 2011
The stories are written in rhythmic rhyme, and deliberately use a rich and varied vocabulary in order to introduce children to new words in a contex, which is humorous and memorable. In the same way, the illustrations by Harry Harrison are very funny, with bold colours and careful attention to detail, including facial expressions, animal characteristics, and their Chinese setting. Each story has a twist in the tale, which appeals to children who enjoy the element of surprise.
For this reason, the stories while following an illustrated picture book format are suitable for elementary school students in different ways. Their humorous content and bold illustrations have proven equally popular amongst boys and girls, with a slight bias towards boys.
With their strong rhythmic beat and rhyming pattern, these stories are also ideal for reluctant readers, slow readers and ESL students, who find the predictability of rhyme and rhythm confidence-boosting and helpful in remembering new or difficult words.
Each story contains notes on the inner covers explaining the background to the Chinese Calendar, the historical or cultural context of the individual story, the characteristics of the zodiac animal in question and the years applicable to that particular zodiac sign. In addition, in each book Harry Harrison has drawn two funny subsidiary “characters” which appear on every page, telling their own “story” independent of the text which children can interpret in their own way.