The Magic Brush: A Story of Love, Family, and Chinese Characters

Kat Yeh, Author, Huy Voun Lee, Illustrator
Kat Yeh, illus. by Huy Voun Lee, Walker, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-8027-2178-5
Reviewed on: 11/29/2010
Release date: 01/01/2011
Hardcover - 40 pages - 978-0-8027-2179-2
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Calligraphy lessons become an expression of love for an Asian family in Yeh's (You're Lovable to Me) thoughtful story. Young Jasmine's grandfather, Agong, shows her how to use a brush to draw Chinese characters, and together they enter a fantasy world that seems to open out from them. A sequence of crisp cut-paper collages by Lee (Honk, Honk, Goose!) shows Jasmine flying to "the top of the highest mountain, past a dark forest and a terrible rolling river," just one step in a journey built around basic words. The Chinese characters for "mountain," "forest," and "river" are incorporated into their images, showing the sources from which they've come; the same characters also appear in standard form for comparison. After Agong dies ("And then, he was gone"), Jasmine takes up the mantle of teacher and keeps Agong's memory alive by offering lessons to her brother, Tai-Tai. "And it was just as their grandfather had said. Magic." Jasmine's journey feels somewhat arbitrary, a too-contrived introduction to Chinese characters; the book is perhaps more valuable for its portrayal of the way that—at its best—instruction offers intimacy and promise. Ages 4–8. (Jan.)
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