In this Chinese folktale expanded to novel length, Old Li raises a baby found floating in the river, but fails to see that the paintings made by the boy come to life. By the author of A Telling of the Tales. Reprint. K.
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Grade 3-6-Brooke bases his short novel on a Chinese tale, which Demi has made into a picture book (Liang and the Magic Paintbrush [Holt, 1988]) and Molly Bang retold as an easy reader (Tye May and the Magic Brush [Morrow, 1992]). This book is arranged in short chapters, each introduced by a philosophical aside. The orphaned baby Liang floats down the river in a basket, clutching a brush with the power to bring pictures to life. His rescuer, the impoverished peasant Li, never sees the magic happen, so he does not believe it. At seven, Liang meets a court painter and improbably falls in love with his portrait of a serving girl so beautiful that he mistakes her for a princess. Seven years later, when that same girl emerges, muddy and frightened, from the reeds, Liang does not recognize her. Thwarted as much by his own misperceptions and false assumptions as by his comic adversary, the extraordinarily fat, greedy emperor, Liang eventually saves himself and his beloved in an intricately plotted finale, his brush flying as fast as the furious action. European details (parchment, a coin portraying the emperor) cut this meditation on art and reality off from its traditional roots. Brooke's writing style and entertaining dialogue make for a beguiling read-aloud. Characters serve the plot, with gestures and actions staged against a minimal backdrop. However, like the "fabulous meals" Liang paints that "all taste like fish and rice since that was the only taste he knew," the lack of setting and emotional connection makes the story, in the end, rather bland.
Margaret A. Chang, North Adams State College, MA
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The author of two collections of splendidly witty extensions of favorite tales (A Telling of the Tales; Untold Tales) expands a Chinese folktale to novel length. Old Li raises a baby he finds floating in the river. But the indigent farmer is ignorant of the purpose of the paintbrush he finds in Liang's basket; and when the boy begins to experiment with it, Li's so impatient--he considers it a waste of time--that he even fails to see that the boy's paintings come to life. In time, Liang acquires real paint (he's been using mud); goes to court, where the Emperor's greed provides more opportunities for satire; has a number of close shaves involving a human-faced monkey (his own creation) and the princess's pretty servant girl; and discovers his tragic origins. Quick-witted Liang paints himself out of every predicament (a dragon and a ship are among his larger artifacts), meanwhile learning that his true magic is not in the brush but in his own creativity (an insight somewhat muddled by the fact that others also use the brush, though with problematic results). Brooke is less quizzically philosophical, his comedy less farcical in this more discursive format; still, he's fashioned a fast-moving fantasy, well embellished with clever details and sure to amuse readers. (Fiction. 9-13) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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