cover image The Magic Paintbrush

The Magic Paintbrush

Laurence Yep. HarperCollins Publishers, $14.95 (96pp) ISBN 978-0-06-028199-1

The setting for this appealing contemporary tale is San Francisco's Chinatown, the same as for Yep's simultaneously released Cockroach Cooties (reviewed Feb. 14), but here Yep mixes in elements of fantasy and fairy tale, as in his The Imp Who Ate My Homework. After his parents are killed in a fire, eight-year-old Steve experiences cultural and generational shock when he goes to live with his immigrant grandfather and Uncle Fong in a Chinatown tenement. Convinced that the stern, disapproving old men don't want him, his grief and misery are compounded by shame when he's penalized at school for not buying a new paintbrush--which his penurious grandfather can ill afford. The rapprochement begins when Steve's grandfather gives him a family heirloom, a paintbrush said to be made with the hairs from a unicorn's tale. Suddenly, whatever the boy paints springs to life, from a steak to the Chinatown moon of legends, transforming their dreary life. ""Chinatowners are made, not born,"" insists his grandfather, who, with Uncle Fong's help, uses the new vistas that the paintbrush reveals as an opportunity to teach his grandson the lore of his ancestral homeland. As always, Yep's crisp style keeps the pages turning, and he leavens his story with snappy dialogue, realistic characters and plenty of wise humor. Final artwork not seen by PW. Ages 8-12. (Mar.)