‘The Twelve’


Amanda Chang, Staff Writer

Lunar New Year is celebrated throughout East Asia every year. This year, as many people in the Arcadia community may know, the holiday was observed on Feb. 12, 2021.

This version of the New Year is often called Chinese New Year, though people from many Asian countries such as Singapore, Korea, and Vietnam, celebrate it. It also revolves around a 12-year calendar that is known as the Asian zodiac and every year is represented by an animal. Unlike the Western zodiac, it is not based on horoscopes and stars but around animals and elements. This year is the Year of the Ox. 

The Asian zodiac and its 12 animals are the basis for Cindy Lin’s middle-grade novel series, The Twelve and The Treasures of the Twelve, published by HarperCollins in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

“The best way to describe my book [The Twelve] is… an Asian-inspired, fantasy-adventure… set in a mythical land,” said Cindy Lin, the author of The Twelve.

Her book is about gifted children who are blessed with zodiac animal powers. Readers follow the protagonist, Usagi (Japanese for “rabbit”), a girl on a quest to save her sister from the evil Dragonlord. On an island kingdom called Midaga, magic selects some of island’s people to have the powers of the animals in the zodiac calendar based on their birth year. For example, Usagi, who is born in the Year of the Rabbit, can leap great lengths and hear the softest whispers. Inu (meaning “dog”), a character born in the Year of the Dog, has an incredible sense of smell and can communicate with dogs. 

Lin’s original idea—kids with zodiac powers and elemental gifts—was first inspired 12 years ago around Lunar New Year, also the Year of the Ox.

I started thinking about all the animals of the zodiac, and what it would be like if people had powers of the animal that ruled the year of their birth. People will say ‘I’m an Ox!’ or ‘I’m a Tiger!’ in relation to their birth year—so what would it mean if they actually had the powers of a tiger or an ox?” said Lin in an interview with MG Book Village.

She was also “inspired by a number of island kingdoms that have existed in Asia over the centuries,” hence why Midaga is a mythical island kingdom.

Another reason why Midaga is mythical is because Lin had to find an effective method of displaying the characters’ powers in The Twelve. To do so, she had to go through many drafts to organize her ideas in a way that would work in a novel. For example, even though her final version of the book takes place in a pre-industrialized fictional world, she had originally intended for it to be a contemporary story. So, while many of the things in her novel, from the weapons to the places, are inspired by real-world instances and have a measure of accuracy, the book is not to be used to teach someone about the Lunar New Year or its traditions, since much of the book also puts a fictional spin on real things.

In addition to drawing inspiration from her research, Lin was driven to publish her book in order to put more emphasis on Asian culture in literature. 

“It’s interesting because I grew up here and so actually, all the TV and books I read were not Asian at all. I’d never [seen] myself, or anyone who looked like me, in any of the television I was watching… there was no K-pop, there was no Mulan, so for me, everything I read was centered around Western society,” said Lin.

Growing up, she said she always read about young Western girls. She “really wanted to be a little girl living on the prairie in a covered wagon,” and never saw someone like herself in the media, but the appearances of the characters did not affect the way that Lin enjoyed her books and other forms of entertainment.

She hopes that the same can be achieved for all young boys and girls when they read her book. Even though the Asia-inspired content may be unfamiliar to them or the characters are different in appearance to themselves, she hopes they can still relate. There are themes of friendship, perseverance, family, growth, and bravery that readers can identify with and learn from. 

Lin is currently working on her next idea, a story that takes place in the same universe as The Twelve


Graphic courtesy of SHERRILLNG.COM