Twelve in a Race

(11 customer reviews)

Written by Catherine Little
Illustrated by Sae Kimura


Twelve in a Race is a read-aloud rhyming book about the origin story of the Chinese zodiac. Young readers will learn about the characteristics of each zodiac animal and how they finished in the Emperor’s great race. Written by Catherine Little and illustrated by Sae Kimura, Twelve in a Race is the perfect gift to give children to find out which animal correlates to their birth year!

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Twelve in a Race takes readers through the origin story of the Chinese zodiac, including the beginning, middle, and ending of the Emperor’s great race. Young readers will enjoy the rhyming pattern and driving question of “Who will win?” Catherine Little, author of Twelve in a Race, was inspired to write this story for her son so that he could learn more about his Chinese heritage. Twelve in a Race’s illustrations, done by Sae Kimura, an artist originally from Odawara, Japan, richly portray this version of the Chinese zodiac legend and imaginatively showcase each animal’s individual character traits throughout the Emperor’s race. Readers will enjoy finding out which animal placed first, which placed last, and which animal correlates to their birth year. Be sure to make room on your bookshelf for this keepsake to read every Lunar New Year and many times in between!

Additional information

Weight .36 kg
Dimensions 24.1 × 34.3 × 1.3 cm

Catherine Little


Sae Kimura


Trade, Casebound, 8.75" X 8.75", 36 pages

11 reviews for Twelve in a Race

  1. Jennifer Leung (verified owner)

    Great book! Makes the perfect gift for a new baby, love the rhymes and illustrations!

  2. Heather Speers (verified owner)

    Twelve in a Race is a wonderful book. The story it tells about the origin of the Chinese zodiac is highly entertaining and the illustrations are vibrant and beautiful. My one and a half year old grandson enjoys the rhyming verse and he loves pointing to and closely examining each of the animals as they are named and pictured in the story. He’s also being introduced to numbers. I can see older children having fun predicting who will win the race and why the race ends as it does. Twelve in a Race is a great addition to any child’s collection of books!

  3. Trudy Rising (verified owner)

    I recently bought this book for my niece who’s just turned 8. She’s going to love to use her new reading skills on this wonderfully rhyming Chinese myth! And the art is so engaging! Young children, being read to, will love to see the animals race over mountains and across raging rivers with a two-page spread devoted to the arrival of each animal at the finish line! I was surprised at who came first (and why) and who finally came last to the finish line (and what slowed him down). What a nice touch by the artist to place the Chinese symbol for each animal on its special two-page spread, as well. This is simply a lovely book to explain the Chinese Zodiac using a fun-to-read poem, enhanced by simply beautiful art!

  4. Eugene Li (verified owner)

    I just received my copy of Twelve in a Race and am looking forward to sharing it with my grandchildren. The youngest will be three this fall so he will enjoy the colourful illustrations and it will help him learn his ordinal numbers. The older ones will enjoy the character traits and the questions throughout. The book itself is truly beautiful.

  5. Francis Li (verified owner)

    “Twelve in a Race” is a classic story that explains the origins of the Chinese Zodiac. The illustrations are colourful and lively and the book makes not only a good read for young children but also a great conversation starter on my coffee table. Highly recommend picking up a copy!

  6. Tina Ginglo (verified owner)

    This book is beautiful cover to cover and everything in between! This is one of those books that both child and adult will want to read over and over again given the story’s rhythm and colourful illustrations.

    As an educator I could use this story not only during Asian Heritage month or Lunar New Year, but In other areas of the curriculum as well including math, literacy, drama and visual art.

  7. Jaclyn Qua-Hiansen (verified owner)

    Twelve in a Race is a charming retelling of the story behind the 12 animals that form the Chinese zodiac. The basic premise, across multiple variations, is that the Jade Emperor – or Buddha, in some stories – holds a race, and the first 12 animals to cross the finish line win a spot on the zodiac.

    The brisk, breathless pace of Catherine Little’s rhymes celebrates each animal’s strengths while softening some of the sharper edges. For example, Rat and Snake win their spots by taking advantage of Ox and Horse, but rather than passing judgment herself, Little asks the reader to reflect, “was that wrong?” About Pig, who comes in 12th, Little writes, “A nap hurt his race but was good for his health.” Pig’s performance is sometimes judged as laziness, so Little’s take is refreshing.

    Sae Kimura’s illustrations are simply joyful. Each animal finishes the race on a full-colour, two-page spread that bursts with energy. You can almost feel how Rabbit is “[blown] forward by strong winds that came from behind.” Dragon in the background, clearly providing the “strong winds,” is a lovely detail. And the ecstatic grin on Tiger’s face reflects how they “[cross] the river amid loud cheers.”

    The final spread, announcing “[a] year for each winner, noble traits to bestow” is a delightfully triumphant finale, with the animals in a row, all sporting gold medals. Snake’s self-satisfied grin, Dragon’s regal posture, Ox’s shy gaze, and Monkey’s mischievous smile speak to their personalities. The concluding line, “Is this how you thought it would unfold?” invites lively discussion.

    This book is great for reading out loud; even readers familiar with the story will get caught up in the excitement of the race. It’s also useful for those who want to teach children about Chinese culture, as each animal’s name in Hanzi is included as is a brief explanation of the zodiac’s cultural significance. An illustrated wheel with years corresponding to each animal will help readers find their own place within the zodiac.

    — Jaclyn Qua-Hiansen, Quill & Quire

  8. — Larry Swartz, Educational Consultant (verified owner)

    This story provides a background narrative to how the Chinese zodiac came to be. Twelve animals answer the emperor’s call to participate in the Emperor’s great race. Each spread, through rhyming couplet describes the animals characteristics (e.g. “Rabbit was fourth so gentle and kind, Blown forward by strong winds that came from behind.” Each full page spreads beautifully capture the animals in action and the environment they race through. The Chinese translation of the animal name is bonus. This book brilliantly blends elements of folktale, rhyme, ordinal numbers, adventure and information. I love this book! (PS. I am an OX, what Chinese Zodiac animal are you?

  9. Helen Kubiw, CanLit for Little Canadians (verified owner)

    As the animals race, their attributes–and those we associate with the different years of the Zodiac–impact their standing in the competition. Rat is persuasive and smart, Horse is cheerful, independent, and quick, and Monkey is agile and clever. For each, Catherine Little gives positive attributes and follows the correct order of the Chinese Zodiac as the myth prescribes. It’s charming and informative and I suspect every child will be looking up their sign.

  10. CBC Books (verified owner)

    Twelve in a Race is a rhyming book that teaches kids about the characteristics of each zodiac animal entered in the Emperor’s great race and their placement that signifies their order in the lunar new year cycle.

  11. ctv (verified owner)

    TWELVE IN A RACE introduces the history of the Chinese zodiac with gorgeous paintings and lively, rhyming text, a perfect gift for baby showers and very young children. (See the full segment at

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