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Multicultural Literature
The Magic Paintbrush
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The Thief Lord
This Same Sky
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge
The Eleventh Hour: Curious Mystery
Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry
M.C. Higgins, the Great
Goin' Someplace Special
Locomotion
Too Many Tamales
Pablo Remembers
My Name is Maria Isabel
Pablo's Tree
The Great Ball Game
Buffalo Woman
Morning Girl
The Mud Pony: A Traditional Skidi Pawnee Tale
Jingle Dancer
The Name Jar
Tree of Cranes
Good Luck Gold: And Other Poems
The Magic Paintbrush
Habibi
Ella Enchanted
Silent Lotus
Real Heroes

Yep, Laurence.  2000.  The magic paintbrush.  New York: Harper
     Collins Publisher.  ISBN:  0061282002.

 

            Steve is an eight year old, Chinese American boy orphaned by a fire that killed both his parents.  He goes to live with his stern immigrant grandfather and Uncle Fong in a tenement in San Francisco’s Chinatown.  Steve is convinced that he is unwanted by his grandfather. When he goes home with a poor grade on an art assignment due to a defective brush, he is too ashamed and afraid to tell his grandfather because he knows they can ill afford a new paintbrush.   When Steve confesses his grade and begins to cry, grandfather surprisingly reassures him and pulls out an old box full of mementos.   He presents Steve with an intricately carved paintbrush containing blue hairs from a unicorn’s tail.

          Immediately life begins to change.  Everything Steve paints comes to life including a steak for Uncle Fong and a trip back in time to the old men's village of Dragonback, China.  Grandfather, who never speaks of his deceased daughter and his wife, wishes to visit the Lady on the Moon from an ancient Chinese legend.  Wishes can come true with a few brush strokes and suddenly there is the Lady on the Moon who looks surprisingly like grandmother.  Steve wishes to see his parents again but when he paints their picture nothing happens except a change comes over his grandfather. Looking at an old photograph he begins to open up and allow Steve to speak and learn about his parents who were ballroom dancers. 

Unfortunately, the greedy landlord, Mr. Pang, gets wind of the magic paintbrush and decides to use it for his own benefit wishing for a mansion, gold, jade, and a banquet.  But the paintbrush has its own agenda granting Mr. Pang’s wish and then making him live with the consequences.

This humorous, whimsical, fantasy comes to life with the help of black and white illustrations interspersed throughout the chapters.  The lifelike pictures depict a chinese window, clothing worn by modern Americans as well as Chinese clothing appropriate to the past.  The reader glimpses Uncle Fong’s Chinese village, the Lady on the Moon, and the many, often revolting, dishes at Mr. Pang’s banquet.  Yep weaves the spirit of magic and the contemporary San Francisco Chinatown setting with lore and legend from China.  Grandfather sets out to assist Steve in becoming aware of his heritage and make him a “Chinatowner”.   We learn Chinese proverbs such as “praise the child, spoil the child” along with glimpses of life in a Chinese village including a description of a machine powered by peddling a conveyor type apparatus that helps transport water to irrigate the crops.

The development of the grandfather/grandson relationship is strong as well as the relationship of the two old men who have maintained a friendship since boyhood.  As an Asian American, Yep is particularly sensitive and “always pursuing the theme of alienation, a common feeling among all teenagers, whether native-born or not” (Meet the Authors).  Steve discovers his grandfather along with his Chinese heritage.

 

Meet Authors and Illustrators: Laurence Yep.  2002.  Available from 
     http://www.childrenslit.com/f_yep.html.  Accessed 20 July 04.