Adele has been a youth librarian for 20 years. She enjoys reading stories to kids and performing puppet shows.
Notes on the Play
This play for children (ages 5–10) tells the story of why the Chinese zodiac animals appear in a certain order. There are two versions of the play given below.
The first is designed to be told by a narrator with the children saying small parts and performing the actions indicated. The second does not have speaking parts for the children. It is designed to be told by a narrator with the children (ages 3–10) doing the actions.
Which Animals Are the Children Playing?
I have included some cards with pictures of the animals after the script. If you would like, you can attach the cards to dowels or craft sticks that the children can hold up to identify their character. You can also cut long strips of paper and fashion them into headbands, then glue the picture to the headband.
Decorating the Space
You will want to have some way of marking the starting line, and the river. You can place black masking tape on the floor for the starting line, and blue for the river. You can also have some children position themselves on opposite ends of a piece of light blue fabric and wave them up and down to make a “river” on your set.
Customizing the Script
You can copy the text of the play and paste it into a word-processing document. Change the pronouns as needed, depending on whether you have a boy or a girl for each part.
Version 1: The Animals’ Race: A Play About the Chinese Zodiac (Speaking Parts)
Narrator: One day, long ago in China, the Jade Emperor decided that all the years should have a name to help the people tell the years apart.
He decided to name each year after an animal, and proclaimed that the animals would have a race across a wide river. The first twelve to cross the river would each have a year named after them.
All the animals were excited as they made their way to the starting line.
Narrator: First the rabbit:
Rabbit: (hops up to the starting line) I have strong back legs to get me going. I just need to find some way to get through the water.
Narrator: Then the horse:
Horse: (gallops up to the starting line) I’m used to running fast, and I’m a strong swimmer.
Narrator: And the rooster:
Rooster (struts) It’s me, rooster. See how my feathers shine in the sun? (preens)
Narrator: Then the dog:
Dog: (runs up smiling and panting) I’m happy to see all my friends here. This is going to be fun!
Narrator: Then the ox:
Ox: (ambles in slowly) I’ll swim this race the way I do everything: strong and steady.
Narrator: Then the tiger:
Tiger: (prowls in and growls) I’m the strongest and the fiercest, and I love to swim.
Narrator: Next the snake:
Snake: (slithers in—use hands to make a slithering motion) Sssssso nice to sssssee everyone. Let’sssss have a good race.
Narrator: Then the dragon:
Dragon: (pretending to fly in) Good luck to all the contestants. Let me know if I can help you.
Narrator: Then the sheep:
Sheep: (trots in daintily) I hope I do well. I’m not sure about how to get across the water.
Narrator: Next the monkey:
Monkey: (swings in from the trees and sneaks up behind Sheep) Boo!
Sheep: (jumps) Oh, you scared me! (Monkey laughs. Then he tags Tiger on the shoulder.)
Monkey: You can’t catch me! (Tiger roars, and the monkey runs away, laughing. Then, the monkey takes his place on the starting line.)
Narrator: Then the pig:
Pig: (strolls in licking lips) I hated to leave my meal, but I thought I should get here before the race started.
Narrator: And, finally, the rat.
Rat: (scurries in, hurriedly) I’m here, I’m here.
Pig: Why are you so late?
Rat: I’ll show you what happened.
(Rat steps to another part of the stage and meets with cat, who is lying on the floor and stretching, as if just waking from a nap.)
Rat: Hi Cat!
Cat: Well, hello Rat. What brings you here?
Rat: Have you heard about the race the Jade Emperor is going to have? We should join.
Cat: (stands up and stretches) I’ll win, of course. But (yawns) I’ll need my sleep. You come and wake me up when it’s time. (lies down again)
(Rat walks back over to Pig)
Rat: That cat has been so bossy lately. I was going to wake him up, but I changed my mind. I ran here instead.
Pig: You mean cat is still asleep?
Rat: Serves him right! He is too lazy to even pay attention to what time the race starts!
Narrator: When they had all lined up and were ready, the Jade Emperor gave the signal for everyone to start. The ox jumped in and soon was ahead because she was such a strong swimmer. She didn’t know that the clever little rat had quietly climbed on her back. (Rat moves over close to Ox.) The ox reached the shore and had just a little ways to go to the finish line.
Ox: I’m the first one out of the water. I knew that strong and steady would win the race.
Rat: (jumps ahead) But I crossed the finish line first! Sometimes the cleverest one wins the race.
Narrator: And, indeed, the Jade Emperor proclaimed Rat the first animal in the zodiac. The ox had the honor of being second. Next came Tiger.
Tiger: I’m going to run to the finish line. I’m not going to let anyone sneak past me. (Tiger runs past the line, then growls.)
Narrator: The rabbit finished fourth.
Rabbit: I started by hopping from stone to stone in the river, but then I managed to hop on to a floating log.
Narrator: The dragon finished fifth.
Dragon: On my way, I saw some villagers whose crops were drying up. So, I stopped to make it rain for them.
Narrator: The horse was the next animal out of the water.
Horse: I made it! (Snake slithers by. Horse is startled, rears up and whinnies.) Wait, what is that?
Snake: Sssssorry, jusssst ssslithering by.
Narrator: So, it was Snake who finished sixth, and Horse was seventh. Sheep, Monkey, and Rooster all found a raft at the beginning of the race, and they paddled as quickly as they could across the river. Sheep, Monkey, and Rooster pantomime these actions as the Narrator says them)
Sheep: We work well as a team. It doesn’t really matter what order we’re in. We’ll all be part of the zodiac.
Monkey: Let’s all race for the finish line, anyway. It will be fun!
Rooster: Last one there’s a rotten egg! (They run to the finish line.)
Narrator: Sheep finished in eighth place, Monkey in ninth, and Rooster in tenth. Next was the dog.
Dog: (shaking the water out of her fur) That was so much fun! I love playing in the water. I’m a little late, but I don’t mind. I’m still number 11.
Narrator: And the last one to finish? Well, you can probably guess. Pig was number twelve.
Pig: I would have been here sooner, but I stopped for a snack. I have to keep my strength up, you know.
Narrator: The Jade Emperor announced, “You have all run the race in your own way. And I am proud to name one of the years after each of you.”
Narrator: But what about the cat? Remember, he was sleeping, depending on the rat to wake him up.
Cat: (yawns and stretches) That was a good nap. (looks up) Uh oh! The sun is high in the sky. Why didn’t Rat wake me up?
Narrator: Cat frantically dashed to the starting line, only to find that the race was over. (Cat pantomimes these actions) And that is why the cat was left out of the Chinese zodiac. And, that is why--to this very day--a cat will chase a rat whenever he sees one.
Cat: I see you, you little rat. (starts chasing the rat)
Rat: That cat never forgets. (starts to run away from Cat)
Version 2: The Animals’ Race: A Play About the Chinese Zodiac (Players Act Out Narration)
Script (Narrator reads)
(The children walk up to the starting line as their characters are mentioned. They perform the actions mentioned in the text.)
One day, long ago in China, the Jade Emperor decided that all the years should have a name to help the people tell the years apart.
He decided to name them after animals, and proclaimed that the animals should have a race across a wide river. The first twelve to cross the river would each have a year named after them.
All the animals were excited as they made their way to the starting line.
The sincere rabbit hopped up, took her place and sat quietly.
The energetic horse galloped up and pawed the starting line, eager to get going.
The bold rooster strutted up to the river and preened his feathers.
The friendly dog wagged her tail and barked a “hello” to all the other contestants as she came to the start.
The patient ox ambled in slowly and lined up her hooves just behind the starting line.
The courageous tiger gave out a low growl and padded deliberately to take his place.
The charming snake slithered quietly in the grass until he came to the water’s edge.
The warm-hearted dragon flew in from the sky and landed next to the others.
The peace-loving sheep trotted in quietly and stood on a nice patch of grass.
The mischievous monkey swung down from the trees and winked at all the contestants as she passed them to find an open place on the riverbank.
The pig strolled into the group, still licking her lips from the meal she had just finished.
And the rat? The rat scurried in last, and hurriedly took his place at the starting line. The rat was almost late.
(Narrator, to audience) Do you want to know the reason?
Here is why:
The rat had been good friends with another animal, the cat. But lately, he had noticed that the cat was getting bossier and bossier. When they heard about the race, the rat said, “We should join. We are quick and clever.”
And the cat said, “I will win, of course. I’ll need my rest, though. You keep watch and let me know when it is time to come.”
The rat had been going to cat’s house to wake him, but then he thought, “Why should I help cat out? He doesn’t seem to want to help me. Besides, he’s lazy.”
So that rat turned around and hurried to the starting line.
When they had all lined up and were ready, the Jade Emperor gave the signal to everyone to go.
(Note: Don’t say the numbers at the beginning of each line out loud. They are just there to help the Narrator keep track of where s/he is in the script.)
- The ox jumped in and soon was ahead because she was such a strong swimmer. She didn’t know that the clever little rat had quietly climbed on her back. The ox reached the other shore first, and lumbered onto the riverbank, but the rat quickly jumped off and scurried to the finish line just ahead of her. That is why the rat is the first animal in the Chinese Zodiac ...
- ...and the ox is the second.
- The tiger, who was also a strong swimmer, reached the bank, and bounded past the finish line. He was third.
- The rabbit had started the race by hopping from stone to stone in the river, but then she managed to hop on to a floating log, and she finished fourth.
- Next, the dragon swept in from the sky. Since he could fly, he would have been first, but on his way, he saw some villagers who were in need because of a terrible drought, and he stopped to make it rain. Because of the delay, he came in fifth.
6&7. Then, the horse ran up from the back and galloped to the finish, but the snake had emerged at the same time and slithered between the horse's hooves to finish sixth. The horse was seventh.
8, 9 & 10. The sheep, monkey, and rooster all found a raft at the beginning of the race, and they paddled as quickly as they could across the river. When they landed, they ran for the finish. Sheep finished in eighth place, monkey in ninth, and rooster in tenth.
11. The dog was so happy to be in the water that she couldn’t help playing for a little bit, splashing and frolicking. Finally, she got down to the business of swimming and crossed the finish line in eleventh place.
12. And, there was one more spot, the twelfth one. Who got it? The pig. She had been hungry and stopped for another snack before she swam across the river. But with new energy, she climbed up the bank and trotted quickly to the finish.
“You have all run the race in your own way,” said the Jade Emperor. “And I am proud to name one of the years after each of you.”
But what about the cat? Remember, he was sleeping, depending on the rat to wake him up. Finally, he woke up, and realized that the sun was high up in the sky. Knowing he was late, he frantically dashed to the starting line, only to find that the race was over.
And that is why the cat was left out of the Chinese zodiac.
And, that is why—to this very day—a cat will chase a rat whenever he sees one. (Cat chases Rat off the stage.)
(If you like, all the children can come out and take a final bow.)
Zodiac Animal Picture Cards to Print
Here are several different sets of pictures for the Chinese zodiac animals. Since there are 12 animals, I have placed 4 animals to a sheet, and there are 3 sheets in each set. Print them out onto card stock, have the children color them (if necessary), and then they can tape them to a craft stick to hold, or they can fasten them to a headband to wear throughout the play.
To make a headband, cut a strip of paper about 1.5 inches wide and fit it in a circle around the child's head. Fasten the circle with a stapler. If you only have 8.5 x 11 paper, you will need to staple two or three pieces end to end to make the strip big enough.
You will see the links for the printable versions in orange type. One set includes all the pictures that are portrait (up and down) orientation. The others are landscape (side to side) orientation. If you want to print just certain pages, remember to set your printer to only those pages.
Don't forget that the cats are all listed after the other animal sets.
Zodiac Animal Set 1: Color Animals
This set has already been colored. All you need to do is print, cut, and go. Don't forget to print out the cat, who is further down the site.
Zodiac Animals Set 2: Heart Animals in Color
Here are the zodiac animal faces made from the shape of hearts. They are all colored in, so you only need to print, cut, and go. Look for the orange links at the end of this article to access to printable PDF's. Don't forget to print out the cat, which appears at the end of these sets.
Cats for the Cards in Color
Here are are the patterns for the cats that go with the Color Animals and the Heart Animals. Look for the orange link at the end of this article which will take you to printable PDF's of these documents.
Here are some animals that the children can color themselves. They can either cut the circle out, or you can use a paper cutter to separate them into four equal squares. Remember to print out the cat, which you'll find after these next two sets of animals.
Here is another take on the zodiac animals. They all look a little like they are wearing t-shirts. Remember to print out the cat, which appears after the others.
Cats for Curlicue Animals and Animal Drawings
Here are the cats that go with the previous two sets of cards. Remember that the link to this printable is listed below.
Animals With the Chinese Character
These animals come with the Chinese character for their name. Children can color them, and cut out the circles. If you like, you can also just separate the animals with a paper cutter. Remember to print out the accompanying cat, which appears further down the site.
Zodiac Animals to Color
Here is another set of images that the children can color. Look for the orange link at the end of this article to access the PDF printable forms.
Cats for Animals With the Chinese Character and for Zodiac Animals to Color
Following are the cats that accompany the previous two sets. The links to the PDF documents are listed just below this last picture.
Here is the Paragraph for the Link for Documents in Landscape Mode
Here it is: Link for Documents in Landscape Mode. This link includes all the documents above which are wider than they are tall. If you just want to print certain pages, be sure to set your printer to do only those pages.
Link for Documents in Portrait Mode
Here it is: Link for Documents in Portrait Mode.
This link includes all the documents above which are taller than they are wide. If you just want to print certain pages, be sure to set your printer to do only those pages.
Other Uses for These Graphics
I designed these graphics as an easy way for your students to identify their characters for the play, but you could use them for other things as well. You could print out two copies of each sheet onto card stock, cut them apart, and use them for a concentration game.
All kinds of possibilities exist. Drop me a note and let me know how you have used them. You can use the comments section below.
© 2017 Adele Jeunette